The Age of Neuroprosthetics

In the five years that we have been publishing Neurotech Business Report, we have covered several segments of the neurotechnology industry as new technologies have come to fore and funding priorities for them have risen and fallen. This month, we focus on neuroprosthetics, and we highlight several aspects of this field that offer commercial promise and unique solutions to urgent healthcare problems. We also examine the very important relationship between public and private funding initiatives and the commercial products that have emerged from those initiatives.

As NBR editorial director David Pope points out in his article on page 1 of this issue, much of the impetus for DARPA’s new prosthetics programs stems from the growing number of amputations resulting from war injuries. But the Revolutionizing Prosthetics initiatives will benefit many individuals with neuromuscular disorders as well. We are particularly encouraged by efforts to incorporate sensory feedback and neural control, based on interpretation of peripheral nerve signals, into a prosthetic device. These efforts will mesh nicely, we believe, with much-publicized efforts to integrate brain-computer interfaces into prosthetic and robotic devices.

Aside from DARPA, there is now considerable support for neuroprosthetics coming from the National Academies (made up of the U.S. National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council) and the W.M. Keck Foundation. The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative new program in smart prosthetics [see article, p3] promises to bring together the leading researchers and engineers working in this area. To quote the program’s theme: “The broader impact to society will come not only from alleviating human suffering and improving quality of life, but also by reducing the health care costs now directed to assisting people with disabilities.”

That there is a viable path to commercial success that results from all this government and private foundation attention should be evident to anyone reading our vendor profile of NESS (Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation Systems) Ltd. this month [see profile, p6]. The Israeli company has leveraged investments from universities, venture capital firms, banks, and government entities to develop and perfect its HD200 Handmaster device. We expect this product to undergo dramatic improvement over the next few years through the efforts of NESS and its American partner Bionesss Inc.

Taken together, these research and commercial efforts at building better neuroprosthetic devices will not only prove to be a tremendous benefit to handicapped and neurologically impaired individuals. They will also help usher in a new era of integration between man and machine.

James Cavuoto
Editor and Publisher



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