11 November 2008
Imagine a deaf child being able to talk and listen, or giving a gravely handicapped person the possibility of a new form of mobility. These are the kinds of dreams and challenges that spurred the creation of this first large-scale Center of Neuroprostheses.
What's a neuroprosthesis? It's a device made up of sensors, connections and electronic chips that are embedded in the body to repair certain neurological deficiencies. Recent progress in artificial retinas and man-machine interfaces that permit communication or action via thoughts alone gives us a glimpse of the possibilities the future might hold for improving the lives of the handicapped. The new Center will concentrate on six main themes: vision (retinal implants), hearing (cochlear implants), mobility (cortical and spinal implants), non-invasive man-machine interfaces (piloting at distance, robotics), the micro-and nano-fabrication of implants, and neuronal coding (signal processing, sensors).
The Center will be inaugurated on January 1, 2009, and will formally be part of EPFL's School of Engineering, in collaboration with the School of Life Sciences and the School of Computer and Communication Sciences. This project also opens the door to fruitful collaborations with other institutions in the Lake Geneva area, such as University of Lausanne and the Cantonal Hospital (CHUV)), University of Geneva and its hospital (HUG), and the regional biomedical industry.
The contribution of the Bertarelli Foundation
The Bertarelli Foundation encompasses all of the family’s philanthropic initiatives in domains such as life sciences, education, children and sport. The Bertarelli Foundation is comprised of five members: Ernesto and Kirsty Bertarelli, Dona Bertarelli Späth and Ernest Späth, and Maria-Iris Bertarelli. In the framework of EPFL's Center for Neuroprostheses, the Bertarelli Foundation will finance two Chairs; one in the domain of neuroengineering and neuroprostheses, and one in the domain of neurophysiology and coding of cochlear implants. This project reflects the family's support of science and leading-edge research for improving human health, as well as their commitment to active participation in the local community.
The Defitech Foundation, created by Sylviane and Daniel Borel, has as its mission to bring information technology into the service of children, adolescents and handicapped young adults. The foundation supports a chair in the domain of non-invasive man-machine interfaces. This research corresponds to the larger sense of the foundation's mission, which is to promote research and development of new technologies to help meet the needs of those who suffer from mental or physical handicaps.
The newly created Center will experience rapid development in the coming years. The Sandoz Family Foundation, led by Pierre Landolt, and the International foundation for paraplegic research (IRP) led by Jean-Jacques Dreifuss, have already announced that they are ready to participate by financing two additional Chairs. Other potential partners have expressed strong interest in the project's scientific and industrial perspectives, which hold great promise for stimulating technology transfer and the development of new start-up companies.