Electrical nature of neural signaling allows efficient bi-directional electrical communication with the nervous system. Currently, electro-neural interfaces are utilized for partial restoration of sensory functions, such as hearing and sight, actuation of prosthetic limbs and restoration of tactile sensitivity, enhancement of tear secretion, and many others. Deep brain stimulation helps controlling tremor in patients with Parkinson's disease, improve muscle control in dystonia, and in other neurological disorders. With technological advances and progress in understanding of the neural systems, these interfaces may allow not only restoration or augmentation of the lost functions, but also expansion of our natural capabilities – sensory, cognitive and others. I will review the state of the field and future directions of technological development.
Daniel Palanker is a Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Director of the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory at Stanford University. He received MSc in Physics in 1984 from the Yerevan State University in Armenia, and PhD in Applied Physics in 1994 from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.
Dr. Palanker studies interactions of electric field with biological cells and tissues, and develops optical and electronic technologies for diagnostic, therapeutic, surgical and prosthetic applications, primarily in ophthalmology. These studies include laser-tissue interactions with applications to ocular therapy and surgery, and interferometric imaging of neural signals. In the field of electro-neural interfaces, Dr. Palanker is developing retinal prosthesis for restoration of sight to the blind and implants for electronic control of secretary glands and blood vessels.
Several of his developments are in clinical practice world-wide: Pulsed Electron Avalanche Knife (PEAK PlasmaBlade), Patterned Scanning Laser Photocoagulator (PASCAL), and OCT-guided Laser System for Cataract Surgery (Catalys). Several others are in clinical trials: Gene therapy of the retinal pigment epithelium (Ocular BioFactory, Avalanche Biotechnologies Inc); Neural stimulation for enhanced tear secretion (TearBud, Allergan Inc.); Smartphone-based ophthalmic diagnostics and monitoring (Paxos, DigiSight Inc.).