The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that help control balance and eye movements. If the system is damaged by disease, aging, or injury, vestibular disorders can result which cause balance difficulties, dizziness and vertigo. UCL Engineering is part of an international consortium – CLoNS (Closed-Loop Neural prosthesis for vestibular disorderS) – hoping to help people with these problems by developing an electronic substitute for a broken balance system. It will work by sensing orientation like an organic vestibular system, processing what’s going on, and then translating it into signals that the nerves already existing will use as if they had a working natural vestibular system.

UCL is responsible for the development of the implantable circuitries and the implant package. The full-custom electronics include stimulation, recording and telemetry integrated circuits. UCL Electronic & Electrical Engineering, under Professor Demosthenous, is working on the circuits to record the sort of signals the prosthetic generates, allow algorithms to be implemented which will ‘teach’ the system what signals to give the brain based on the input it gets from the synthetic balance organ, and communicate between the different bits of the prosthetic. UCL Medical Physics and Bioengineering, under Professor Donaldson, is then working on a biocompatible package to allow it to be implanted.

The effectiveness of the CLoNS neural prosthesis will be tested in animal models and during the final part of the project in selected human volunteers.

Project outcomes will allow the achievement of increased neuroscientific, clinical, and technological knowledge, guidelines for the development of other bidirectional interfaces and neural prostheses, as well as roadmaps for future development of hybrid bionic systems.

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