European Scientists Study the Brain

According to researchers, 165 million Europeans are likely to experience some form of brain-related disease during their lifetime. Finding better ways of preventing and treating brain diseases is becoming urgent. ICT research is expected to deliver new insights and innovations related to TBI, mental disorders, pain, epilepsy, and pediatric conduct disorders.

A number of research projects funded by the European Commission (EU) are supported by the EU’s “Seventh Framework Programme” (FP7) for research. Research projects are helping a number of organizations to collaborate with others to deliver new insights into helping patients.

For example, strokes the most common neurological disease afflicts people by causing cognitive problems such as difficulties with attention, memory, or language, or produce severe physical disability. The incidence of stroke increases with age making it the most frequent cause of life-long impairment in adulthood.

There are several EU FP7 ICT funded research projects underway to help patients. One research project studying stokes and referred to as CONTRAST is developing an adaptive Human Computer Interface (HCI) to improve cognitive functioning. Patients will be able to use an individually tailored rehabilitation process at home at their computer while their doctor is able to provide home-based training and monitor their progress from the clinic.

Another research project concerning stroke patients called COGWATCH is helping stroke patients with symptoms of Apraxia and Action Disorganization Syndrome (AADS). These patients retain their motor capabilities but make cognitive errors every day during goal oriented tasks. This project is developing intelligent tools and objects and portable and wearable devices to provide personalized cognitive rehabilitation at home to help AADS patients.

To help patients with Parkinson’s disease, the CuPID project uses wearable sensors, audio biofeedback, and virtual reality to provide intensive motivating training that can be monitored remotely. By the end of 2012, the CuPID project was using rehabilitation exercises and virtual games to help with exercises used during rehabilitation as well as using telemedicine to provide remote supervision.

Epilepsy is another common neurological disorder that despite progress in treatment, is still incurable. Pharmaceutical treatment can reduce or remove the symptoms, but there needs to be life-long continuous adjustments in order to be effective.

Epilepsy requires monitoring multiple parameters for accurate diagnosis, prediction, alerting and prevention, as well as treatment follow-up and pre-surgical evaluation. The ARMOR project is working to design a more holistic personalized, medically efficient, and economical monitoring system to analyze brain and body data from epilepsy patients.

The ARMOR project’s portable system will provide a more accurate diagnosis for individual patients and be able to predict the time and the type of seizure. Then a warning will be issued so that medical assistance and advice can be available if needed.

Amputation of a limb is not just a traumatic physical experience, as it can also lead to sensations usually accompanied by pain that seems to come from the missing body part which is called a phantom limb.

To alleviate the pain, researchers are developing the TIME project by placing an implantable electrode inside the nerve, and electrical stimulators placed outside the body. The system provides electrical micro stimulation to help reduce painful sensations and may even enable amputees to sense virtual environments by touch.

Several research projects are ongoing to help return functional sight to the visually impaired. The OPTONEURO project aims to develop complementary optoelectronics needed to stimulate photosensitized neurons and produce high illumination densities. The optoelectronics developed would be used in future optogenetic-optoelectronic retinal prosthesis or artificial eye for those blinded by retinitis pigmentosa disease.

The SEEBETTER project is also looking to develop artificial vision prosthetics for the visually impaired. Conventional image sensors have severe limitations, but silicon retina vision sensors would mimic the biological retina’s information processing and thereby computing both spatial and temporal aspects of the visual input.

Researchers on the SEEBETTER project are using genetic and physiological techniques to better understand the function of the retina and model the retina’s vision processing to help them design and build the first high performance silicon retina.

Researchers want to understand the neurobiological principles of seeing beyond the function of the retina alone and help them replicate the success of human vision for computers and robots.

Specifically, a project, called RENVISION is working to understand how the retina encodes visual information through different cellular layers and then is able to use this insight to develop a retina-inspired computational approach to computer vision.

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