Distinguished lecturer of IEEE EMBS by Michela Chiappalone
University of Genoa, Italy

Neurons in the loop: a journey from Neurorobotics to Neuroprosthetics

Abstract. Starting from the 20s, researchers have begun to explore the possibility to create ‘hybrid’ systems in vitro at the interface between neuroscience and robotics, thus providing an excellent test bed for designing innovative, bi-directional neural interfaces and neuroprostheses. The first-ever in vitro closed-loop system consisted of a lamprey brainstem bi-directionally connected to a small wheeled robot. Inspired by that pioneering study, we developed a bi-directional system involving neocortical networks grown in vitro onto Micro Electrode Arrays and a small robot. A closed-loop paradigm was also exploited to develop a novel concept of a ‘neuromorphic prosthesis’, constituted by an all-hardware real-time system hosting a Spiking Neural Network able to replace the function of a missing neuronal connection or sub-network. By capitalizing on the previous result in vitro, novel closed-loop paradigms aimed at promoting Hebbian plasticity to repair brain functionality in vivo have been investigated and tested. The proposed treatment will be foundational for the development of novel neuromodulation-based therapeutics to promote recovery in the damaged brain.

CHIAPPALONE_ShortBio_v01.pdf (embs.org)

Dr. Ir. Jeroen Rouwkema
University of Twente, The Netherlands

Towards the creation of multi-scale vascular networks in engineered tissues

Optimally engineered tissues will often need to contain a vascular network; either to supply the cells in the tissue with nutrients after implantation, or to ensure a physiological tissue response when the tissue is used as a screening platform. Especially when the tissue is engineered for implantation purposes, this network needs to be properly organized, including macro-vascular structures but also micro-vascular capillaries, to accommodate a functional connection with the vasculature of the patient. In order to achieve multiscale organized vascular networks within engineered tissues, we are developing methodologies to spatially control the organization of vascular cells within tissue analogues. A potent approach in this is to spatially control the mechanical environment, as well as the availability of angiogenic growth factors. In this presentation I will present our work on the development of engineering platforms to investigate the effect of mechanical perturbations and growth factor patterning on in vitro and in vivo vascular development and organization, including transparent ex ovo chicken chorioallantoic membrane (CAM) systems. These platforms provide us with valuable information that can be translated to an in vitro tissue engineering setting. With this approach, our long-term aim is to locally control tissue remodeling and maturation in engineered tissues, resulting in multiscale vascular networks.