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Section: Research Program

Neuroprostheses

Participants : David Andreu, David Guiraud, Daniel Simon, Guy Cath├ębras, Fabien Soulier.

The main drawbacks of existing implanted FES systems are well known and include insufficient reliability, the complexity of the surgery, limited stimulation selectivity and efficiency, the non-physiological recruitment of motor units and muscle control. In order to develop viable implanted neuroprostheses as palliative solutions for motor control disabilities, the third axis "Neuroprostheses" of our project-team aims at tackling four main challenges: (i) a more physiologically based approach to muscle activation and control, (ii) a fibres' type and localization selective technique and associated technology (iii) a neural prosthesis allowing to make use of automatic control theory and consequently real-time control of stimulation parameters, and (iv) small, reliable, safe and easy-to-implant devices.

Accurate neural stimulation supposes the ability to discriminate fibres' type and localization in nerve and propagation pathway; we thus jointly considered multipolar electrode geometry, complex stimulation profile generation and neuroprosthesis architecture. To face stimulation selectivity issues, the analog output stage of our stimulus generator responds to the following specifications: i) temporal controllability in order to generate current shapes allowing fibres' type and propagation pathway selectivity, ii) spatial controllability of the current applied through multipolar cuff electrodes for fibres' recruitment purposes. We have therefore proposed and patented an original architecture of output current splitter between active poles of a multipolar electrode. The output stage also includes a monotonic DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) by design. However, multipolar electrodes lead to an increasing number of wires between the stimulus generator and the electrode contacts (poles); several research laboratories have proposed complex and selective stimulation strategies involving multipolar electrodes, but they cannot be implanted if we consider multisite stimulation (i.e. stimulating on several nerves to perform a human function as a standing for instance). In contrast, all the solutions tested on humans have been based on centralized implants from which the wires output to only monopolar or bipolar electrodes, since multipolar ones induce to many wires. The only solution is to consider a distributed FES architecture based on communicating controllable implants. Two projects can be cited: Bion technology (main competitor to date), where bipolar stimulation is provided by injectable autonomous units, and the LARSI project, which aimed at multipolar stimulation localized to the sacral roots. In both cases, there was no application breakthrough for reliable standing or walking for paraplegics. The power source, square stimulation shape and bipolar electrode limited the Bion technology, whereas the insufficient selection accuracy of the LARSI implant disqualified it from reliable use.

Keeping the electronics close to the electrode appears to be a good, if not the unique, solution for a complex FES system; this is the concept according to which we direct our neuroprosthesis design and development, in close relationship with other objectives of our project-team (control for instance) but also in close collaboration with medical and industrial partners.

Our efforts are mainly directed to implanted FES systems but we also work on surface FES architecture and stimulator; most of our concepts and advancements in implantable neuroprostheses are applicable somehow to external devices.