News Article

Prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant Awarded To Imec


Imec’s Yao-Hong Liu to Develop Miniature, Energy-efficient, and High-capacity Wireless Network For Data Transfer of Brain-Wide Neural Recordings

imec, a leading research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, has announced that the European Research Council (ERC) has awarded a prestigious Consolidator Grant to Yao-Hong Liu, principal member of technical staff at imec at Holst Centre the Netherlands, for his project Intranet of Neurons (IoN). IoN aims to revolutionize the way neuroscientists collect and process neural data by enabling the efficient transfer at high data rate from high-density sub-dural implanted recording probes while maintaining a small footprint required for minimally invasive surgery. The new wireless telemetry network that is proposed has the capacity to support 10's of distributed recording nodes (enabling a greater than 10,000 channels) simultaneously. IoN will significantly scale up brain-wide recordings and propel research into brain-computer interfaces forward. Yao-Hong Liu receives 2 million euro for this ambitious 5-year project.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are designed to restore sensory-motor or cognitive functions due to trauma or neural disorders. The currently available BCIs, however, can only record less than 1,000 neurons, and are limited to controlling simple motions such as grasping. For BCIs to be widely applicable, and to ultimately restore movement and help paralyzed patients, we need a solution that can record greater than

10,000 neurons simultaneously, cover a large area of the brain, and include a wireless interface for transferring the massive amount of neural data efficiently. The wireless interfaces that are currently available, are large modules that need to be placed above the skull with the risk of accidents and surgical complications. In addition, no wireless telemetry system has been able to fulfill the data rates (500 Mbps) required to transfer data from 1,000's of recording channels.

Therefore, a miniature wireless interface that can be implanted and that achieves a high data rate is of critical importance for a brain wide BCI.

“The ERC Consolidator Grant gives me the opportunity to perform groundbreaking research for BCIs. It will make the acquisition of data from large-scale neural recordings possible, from 100 times more neurons than with existing technologies, distributed across multiple areas of the human brain. This technology will also drastically improve the information throughput of existing BCIs by at least 100 times, enabling patients with disability to reconnect to the world.” Yao-Hong Liu, principal member of staff in imec.

“The project will have a large impact on neuroscience, and neuro-therapeutics and on the broad area of high-bandwidth wireless data transfer.” adds Barun Dutta, program director neurotech at imec. Our research on the Intranet of Neurons will take on, explore and innovate across two broad challenges: 1) Innovate and implement and realize a novel wireless link that can communicate and interconnect to a transcranial implant from above the skull. The approach will ensure an optimized and best-in-class solution for signal propagation across bone/neural tissue interfaces. 2) research and implement a new communication protocol to maximize the network capacity. This will enable a wireless telemetry network that can accommodate 10s of distributed sensor nodes with greater than 10,000 recording channels and with power consumption at levels that avoid any tissue heating to remain well within the safety margins for thermal damage.

“We are very proud of Yao-Hong Liu for receiving this prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant. It gives him and the multi-disciplinary imec neurotechnology team a unique opportunity to push the boundaries of large-scale recordings and strengthen imec's position as a key player in the journey to a deeper understanding of the brain. In Holst Centre, imec has built up a strong track-record on wearables. The territory of wireless brain implants is in its infancy and needs major improvements on data rate, miniaturization, and battery size. This ERC will help us to accelerate the next leap jump towards high quality implants”, said Jo De Boeck, Chief Strategy Officer at imec and managing director of imec The Netherlands.

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