Research Topic

Emerging Sensory Neuroprosthetics: Feasibility, Efficacy, and Metrics

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Since the early work of Volta, scientists have dreamt about the effects of electrical stimulation on body functions and more in particular on the possibility of restoring lost sensory function using these means. The recent success of cochlear implants (CIs) in rehabilitating neurosensory hearing loss has ...

Since the early work of Volta, scientists have dreamt about the effects of electrical stimulation on body functions and more in particular on the possibility of restoring lost sensory function using these means. The recent success of cochlear implants (CIs) in rehabilitating neurosensory hearing loss has boosted interest on this type of technology and its possibilities. Today, several efforts are being carried out to translate the concept of using electrical stimulation to provide sensory input to the brain and postulate it as a possible therapeutic alternative to a variety of impairments. The degree of maturity and success of clinical application of each of these devices is variable. A few examples are auditory brainstem implants, retinal implants, and vestibular implants.

Several research paths have emerged with the development of sensory neuroprostheses, ranging from technological developments to basic science, and to clinical research. For example, an important roadblock is the lack of specificity of electrical stimulation. Since in general the neural structures targeted are far away from the site of stimulation, current spread fundamentally limits the “electrical resolution” that can be achieved (i.e., effective number of frequency channels elicited by a cochlear implant or effective number of independent phosphenes elicited by a retinal implant). To overcome this, a number of solutions are investigated, including improved stimulation strategies (e.g., amplitude and pulse rate co-modulation), alternative ways of stimulation (e.g., optical) and novel techniques to improve the electrode-nerve interface (e.g., bring the neural tissue “closer” to the electrodes via axon guidance techniques or bringing the neural tissue “closer” to the electrodes via stem cell techniques). Sensory neuroprostheses also represent an unprecedented platform to investigate sensory processing in the brain, facilitating the acquisition of fundamental new data to go beyond the frontiers of current knowledge of sensory deficits and multisensory integration. Finally, the effects of sensory neuroprostheses on development and cognitive functions have also become important research topics.

The present research topic is intended to serve as a privileged platform for knowledge exchange for all disciplines involved. The goal is two-fold: on one hand, it should contribute to identifying interesting synergies across applications and thus help us move the field forward; on the other hand, it also holds high potential to foster far-reaching collaborations among all specialists in cognitive neurotechnologies.


Keywords: neuroprosthesis, retinal implant, cochlear implant, vestibular implant, vision, blindness, hearing, deafness, vestibular function, vestibulopathy, bilateral vestibular loss, arreflexia, psychophysics, sensory function, sensory physiology, electrical stimulation


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