Retinal prosthesis is a type of neural prosthesis, which is an implant process to restore or treat damaged sensory elements in the neural system. It is well known that complex information transfer in neural cells is primarily through biochemical reactions. Neurotransmitter-based chemical stimulation is a relatively new concept and has demonstrated its potential to mimic neural information processing. However, most of the current efforts rely on limited cell numbers and their responses because of the lack of appropriate methods to investigate large cell populations. Neural cell arrangement in the retina is especially in a highly arrayed configuration. As such, their neural activities are interconnected with surrounding cells. To better understand the large-scale neural signal processing and develop clinically applicable neural prostheses, it is important to mimic the synaptic functionality of releasing neurotransmitters in a large, arrayed configuration with high spatial resolution. The proposed research work will provide a solution for this critical need and develop light-induced liquid flow control, especially for large-scale chemical stimulation. In addition to the technical impacts, the broader impact of the proposed program will be the education and training of a new generation of workforces for future scientific community. The City College of New York is well-positioned to attract its dominant underrepresented minorities. The project will integrate the research activities into the current curriculum to provide undergraduate and graduate students with hands-on experience and research opportunities. The proposed research activities will also be integrated into outreach activities through lab demos, tours, and summer internships for high school students.
The overall goal of the proposed research program is to advance the scientific and technological foundations for large-arrayed neurotransmitter-based chemical stimulation with application to retinal prosthesis. The project will implement a self-powered, three-dimensional microfluidic platform to address the fundamental limitations of the current chemical stimulation approach when it is applied to highly interconnected, large arrayed neural stimulation. Two control mechanisms will be studied. One is based on light-induced electroosmotic effect, and the other is based on light-induced physical on-off valves using stimulus-responsive polymers. The successful completion of this project will significantly simplify overall system complexities for chemically stimulating densely populated cells and initiate a new paradigm of chemical stimulation that can be potentially applied to large-area, with high spatial resolution, without limiting its scalability. The resulting platform will have broad impacts of translating the current chemical stimulation approach from a bench-top laboratory setting to practical neural prostheses and therapies.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.