The establishment of the National Science Foundations Engineering
Research Center for Biomimetic Microelectronic Systems [see
article, p1], is a great success for the field of neurotechnology.
The significance of the new center extends well beyond the $17 million
initial award from the NSF.
To begin with, the effort represents a strong endorsement of biomimetic
approaches to understanding, treating, and eventually re-engineering
the nervous system. To neural engineers and research scientists
who have spent much of their careers building mathematical models
of nervous system behavior at the cellular, network, and systems
levels, this must come as good news. At a time when the bulk of
government funding for neurobiology research seems to be directed
at bio/pharma approaches, this award demonstrates to the outside
world that there is at least one alternative way of looking at the
The BMES center is also noteworthy because of its goal of integrating
research and researchers from several different institutions and
several different application areas. While there are a large number
of potential neurotechnology applications that deserve attention,
the three selected by the BMES center, building devices to treat
blindness, paralysis, and cognitive impairments, represent a good
cross section of current neurotechnology efforts. And they reflect
a good balance between readily achievable goals and those with a
more distant horizon.
But most promising about the new biomimetics endeavor is the extent
to which it is attracting interest from commercial partners who
are eager to have access to research in this field. The large number
of firms who have demonstrated an interest in participating as industrial
partners points up the commercial promise of biomimetic microelectronic
devices. And the fact that this includes several major manufacturers
in the semiconductor and information processing industries confirms
one of the guiding principles of this publication: Advances in neurotechnology
device design will lead to a spinoff from healthcare to industrial
If there is one challenge confronting the BMES center, it is its
closeness with the Alfred Mann family of companies and research
organizationsboth in geographical and organizational terms.
As the center continues its efforts to recruit industrial partners,
it will need to demonstrate that potential competitors of these
firms have a motive to participate. During our recent visit to the
USC campus, BMES center director Mark Humayun confirmed that this
is indeed an important goal.
The effort to build a new generation of neurotechnology devices
based on the design and function of biological systems stands to
alter our understanding of both neural and microelectronic systems.
We congratulate the BMES centers personnel and wish them much
Editor and Publisher