Section: Overall Objectives

Overall Objectives

CAMIN research team is dedicated to the design and development of realistic neuroprosthetic solutions for sensorimotor deficiencies in collaboration with clinical partners. Our efforts are focused on clinical impact: improving the functional evaluation and/or quality of life of patients. Movement is at the center of our investigative activity, and the exploration and understanding of the origins and control of movement are one of our two main research priorities. Indeed, optimizing the neuroprosthetic solutions depends on a deeper understanding of the roles of the central and peripheral nervous systems in motion control. The second research priority is movement assistance and/or restoration. Based on the results from our first research focus, neuroprosthetic approaches are deployed (Figure 1).

Electrical stimulation (ES) is used to activate muscle contractions by recruiting muscle fibers, just as the action potentials initiated in motoneurons would normally do. When a nerve is stimulated, both afferent (sensitive) and efferent (motor) pathways are excited. ES can be applied externally using surface electrodes positioned on the skin over the nerves/muscles intended to be activated or by implantation with electrodes positioned at the contact with the nerves/muscles or neural structures (brain and spinal cord). ES is the only way to restore movement in many situations.

Yet although this technique has been known for decades, substantial challenges remain, including: (i) detecting and reducing the increased early fatigue induced by artificial recruitment, (ii) finding solutions to nonselective stimulation, which may elicit undesired effects, and (iii) allowing for complex amplitude and time modulations of ES in order to produce complex system responses (synergies, coordinated movements, meaningful sensory feedback, high-level autonomic function control).

We investigate functional restoration, as either a neurological rehabilitation solution (incomplete SCI, hemiplegia) or for permanent assistance (complete SCI). Each of these contexts imposed its own set of constraints on the development of solutions.

Functional ES (FES) rehabilitation mainly involves external FES, with the objective to increase neurological recuperation by activating muscle contractions and stimulating both efferent and afferent pathways. Our work in this area naturally led us to take an increasing interest in brain organization and plasticity, as well as central nervous system (brain, spinal cord) responses to ES. When the objective of FES is a permanent assistive aid, invasive solutions can be deployed. We pilot several animal studies to investigate neurophysiological responses to ES and validate models. We also apply some of our technological developments in the context of human per-operative surgery, including motor and sensory ES.

Camin research will be focused on exploring and understanding human movement in order to propose neuroprosthetic solutions in sensorimotor deficiency situations to assist or restore movement. Exploration and understanding of human movement will allow us to propose assessment approaches and tools for diagnosis and evaluation purposes, as well as to improve FES-based solutions for functional assistance.

Figure 1. Overview of Camin general scientific approach.

The expertise and skills of our individual team members will be combined to design and develop solutions to restore movement functions.

We have chosen not to restrict our investigation spectrum to specific applications but rather to deploy our general approach to a variety of clinical applications in collaboration with our medical partners. Our motivation and ambition is to have an effective clinical impact.