Biomedical engineering is an inherently multi-disciplinary field at the intersection of biology, engineering, computer science, and medicine. At the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory, research labs are using advanced technology to navigate the complex world of biomedical engineering to find solutions to various problems in healthcare. One such lab is the Butera lab, headed by Dr. Butera, which specializes in neuroengineering and computational neuroscience research.
Neuroengineering “employs neuroscientific and engineering methods to elucidate neuronal function and design solutions for neurological dysfunction” with the primary goal of “restoring sensory, motor, and cognitive function in the nervous system” . The Butera lab in specific examines how alternating current can selectively block signal conduction in the peripheral nerve , an area of research that could lead to massive strides in understanding how the brain and nervous system react to electrical stimuli. This specific area of research is called neuromodulation.
An example of neuromodulation in practice is that of an implantable device to stimulate the vagus nerve to reduce inflammation and joint damage in patients. Figure 1 demonstrates precisely how neuromodulation can be utilized in this capacity.
Another area of research in the Butera lab focusses on synchronous neuron function to fire action potentials to other neurons and coordinate complex physiological responses. This synchronization “underlies a range of neurological processes from information representation in sensory systems to motor pattern generation underlying repetitive processes such as breathing and walking” .
Finally, the Butera lab has worked to develop an open source software called Real-Time eXperiment Interface (RTXI) that pairs computer simulations with experiments as they happen. Some of the technologies used to research these topics in neuroengineering include intracellular and extracellular electrophysiology and computational tools such as modeling and “real-time computing” . Simply put, electrophysiology is “concerned with electrical phenomena that are associated with physiological processes” .
Research in neuroengineering must integrate several different fields to solve problems governed by the body’s most complex organ: the brain. As such, neuroengineering is a revolutionary and rapidly developing field with substantial implications for the future of human health – and the research conducted here in Dr. Butera’s lab is cutting edge in this innovative subfield of biomedical engineering.
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