Making an Impact

Worldwide, the number of people aged 65 and above is projected to grow from an estimated 524M in 2010 to nearly 1.5B in 2050 
(Global Health and Aging, 2011). In the U.S., the ratio of adults aged 65+ to people 20-64 will increase by 80% in the next four decades, and life expectancy is projected to reach 84.5 years by 2050. The average life expectancy in the U.S. increased from 45 in 1900 to 78 in 2010 (Arias, 2014). U.S. birth rates dropped for the sixth consecutive year in 2014 (Martin et al., 2013). U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the increased life span in combination with declining birth rates will result in one-in-five Americans being 65 or older, and at least 400,000 will be 100 or older by the year 2050.

Medical advances of twentieth century have resulted, in part, in this dramatic rise in life expectancy. The increase in life expectancy has triggered a shift in the leading causes of disease and death emphasizing the emergence of chronic and degenerative diseases, and the need for developing innovative neurotechnologies to address disabilities and health care costs (Global Health & Aging, 2011).

We have moved from a society dying of fatal diseases to a society of individuals living with chronic diseases.

Many diseases and traumas can significantly decrease or remove mobility such as stroke, spinal cord injury, and Parkinson’s disease. Similarly these and other disease and injuries, such as  Retinitis Pigmentosa and other forms of blindness, can decrease or block sensation. Diseases that directly affect sensory and motor function also often have comorbid effects on cognition and emotion. Chronic pathologies that span the hierarchy from basic physiological function to thought and emotion—hypertension, epilepsy, depression—may be ameliorated through neural technological approaches. The population of individuals living with disability is expanding and the current medical standard of care will need to be augmented in order to reduce the significant impact on the national economy in the coming decades.

Improving national economic health


Clearly, the increase in life expectancy has triggered a shift in the leading causes of disease and death emphasizing the emergence of chronic and degenerative diseases, and the need for developing innovative neurotechnologies to address disabilities and health care costs (Global Health & Aging, 2011).

About 10M people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) including 1M Americans (Parkinson’s disease statistics, 2013).

Stroke is also a leading cause of serious long-term disability along with spinal cord injury.

The combined direct and indirect costs of these three disabilities alone are in excess of $100B annually (Spinal Cord Injury Facts and Figures at a Glance, 2009).

In addition, there are 1.8M+ Americans living with limb loss (Amputee statistics, 2009). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that by developing novel therapies and technologies for preventing new injuries, the US can save as much as $400B on future direct and indirect lifetime costs (CDC, 2010).

Therefore, it is imperative to engineer truly effective human-machine systems, tools, and devices to improve care and reduce the financial burden of disability due to chronic and degenerative diseases.

In 2010, there were approximately 39 million people in the world living with blindness (“Global estimates of visual impairment: 2010,” Br. J. Ophthalmol.). Damage to various locations along the visual track can cause a variety of visual deficits – retinitis pigmentosa (RP) involves damage to the photoreceptors of the retina, while the optic nerve is damaged by glaucoma. Once it has occurred blindness cannot be treated pharmaceutically and there is only one commercially available vision-restoring neural prosthetic device.

BRAIN’s discoveries aim to:

  • Revolutionize the treatment of brain disorders limiting mobility and cognition.
  • Change the way scientists and engineers approach the design of complex human-machine systems using data.
  • Interpret brain function from the molecular to network levels.
  • Harness neuroplasticity and emergent properties at multiple time scales to enhance the engagement and efficacy of human-machine interfaces.

Examples of BRAIN’s novel engineered systems and tools include closed-loop neuromodulation interfaces that are both engaging and reliable combined with stimulation, sensing, and imaging capabilities for the treatment of PD and stroke; reliable, high-throughput virtual-physical human-machine interfaces, and integrated diagnostic, assistive and therapeutic systems.

Research interests

Our research reflects needs addressed by the center

Medical devices that interface with the nervous system for monitoring, diagnostic, therapeutic, or restorative purposes are likely to be a major locus of innovation in our industry over the next several years. Neurotechnology is a $150 billion/year industry and growing (Neurotechnology Industry Report, 2009), and the pattern of submissions to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) reflects this trend.

The proposed BRAIN Center will use a synergistic and interdisciplinary approach to the development and validation of affordable patient-centered technologies to overcome disability.

Specifically, the research will focus on creating technologies and prophylactic interventions to:

  • Enhance mobility by preventing falls in the normal elderly population, stroke, and Parkinson’s patients.
    (Project 1)
  • Alleviate age- and other neural-pathology related sensory and motor degradation through the development of brain machine interfaces.
    (Projects 2,3 and 4)
  • Enhance upper and lower extremity function in stroke patients.
    (Project 4)
  • Attend to regulatory science in support of translation efforts.
    (Project 5)

Research Team

Arizona State University and the University of Houston have a unique concentration of PIs who have the resources and expertise to design, develop, and test innovative neurotechnologies that can effectively transform the lives of physically and cognitively impaired individuals.