HYBRID NEURAL MICROSYSTEMS: INTEGRATING NEURAL TISSUE AND ENGINEERED SYSTEMS
The Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University are proud to offer a program of graduate training focused on the creation of systems that integrate living neural tissue with engineered components through the integration of microelectronics/computing technology and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) with the study of cellular and systems neuroscience. The combination of these two, previously disparate disciplines, has great potential for impacting research and applications ranging from the treatment of disease to the implementation of artificial systems inspired by biology. The realization of such far-reaching goals is limited under present educational programs. The IGERT program addresses these limitations by providing an environment that integrates the underlying disciplines fundamentally through a combination of educational infrastructure and interdisciplinary research opportunities.
The educational component of the program will create a formal curricular structure between associated preexisting programs within the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech and the Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Emory. Through our proposed formal structure, Emory students in the biological sciences will gain knowledge in microsystems technology while Georgia Tech engineers will develop understanding in cellular and systems neuroscience. Our educational plan depends on three interdependent learning phases: preparation, integration, and articulation. In the preparation phase (Year 1), the IGERT fellows will begin to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to bridge disciplinary gaps through an integrated seminar series, research rotations, and coursework bridging neuroscience and engineering. In the integration phase (Year 2), fellows will participate in the capstone instructional activity for this program: an integrated Hybrid Neural Microsystems (HNM) laboratory course in which the fellows will develop a variety of skills and techniques while working on authentic problems at the intersection of neuroscience and microsystems technology using a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach. In the articulation phase (Year 3 and beyond), students will have multiple opportunities to articulate and disseminate the knowledge that they have acquired.
The research efforts that are incorporated into the program involve the development and application of systems that interface neural tissue (either in vitro or in vivo) to engineered devices, models, and constructs for the purposes of understanding living systems, augmenting damaged neuronal systems, and producing novel engineered systems. This research draws on our present strengths in neurophysiology, microelectronics/micromechanics, cell biology, biomechanics, and medical implants. Research projects include the following efforts: interfacing to real-time neuromechanical models, implantable devices for treatment of movement disorders, neural robotics, hybrid computational systems, MEMS technology for 3-D tissue interfacing, and neural injury and repair. The proposed program creates an integrated training environment that crosses the disciplines that form the foundation for neuroscience and for microsystems technology. This program is built upon the integration of crossdisciplinary education and research training led by a faculty with a passion and proven track record for such integrative activities, and developed through planning and education/assessment based upon cognitive-science fundamentals. The students who emerge from this program will be a new breed of scientist–engineer that understands and can apply knowledge that crosses traditional boundaries.