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This NYU-Poly ‘Innovator’ is making brain scans better

A young professor has greatly improved the resolution of brain scans, allowing a deeper understanding of epileptic seizures. His work recently won him a spot on MIT Technology Review's "35 Innovators Under 35" list.

Jonathan Viventi with his device for reading data from brains. (Photo by Ardis Kadiu, courtesy of NYU-Poly)
Jonathan Viventi, 32, of NYU-Poly, is putting sensors directly on brains.

They don’t damage brain tissue. They record the brain’s electrical signals. And they do so at a very high resolution.

Right now, Viventi’s research is primarily being used to study epileptic seizures in animals, with the hope of developing interventions for epilepsy in humans.

Viventi explains:

In the past, neural interfaces have generally been constrained to either measure from a small area of brain with fine detail or from large areas of the brain with coarse detail. The limitation is wiring. Previous technologies have required one wire for every measurement point, effectively limiting the number of sensors we can use to about 100. This technology allows us to have a virtually unlimited number of sensors, such as thousands or tens of thousands, while requiring only a few wires. The end result is that we can cover larger areas of the brain with sensors and still obtain a very finely detailed picture of the electrical activity. 

The research has earned him recognition from the MIT Technology Review as one of “35 Innovators Under 35” for 2014. The list comes out annually.

Parts of Viventi’s research are patent pending, while other parts are already patented. Some of those parts have been licensed, but none of it is on the market commercially just yet. The hope is to earn approval from the FDA for human trials.

We weren’t able to get details in terms of how the technology is being tested on animals up to this point, except that the focus is on epilepsy.

Jonathan Viventi. (Photo courtesy of NYU)

Jonathan Viventi. (Photo courtesy of NYU)

Viventi spent some time in the startup world before returning to academia. He worked at Flarion, which was acquired by Qualcomm, developing the early phase of now-ubiquitous 4G wireless systems.

We asked Viventi how long he thought it would be before our brains can interface directly with machines. “I think implantable brain computer interfaces for consumer applications are a long ways away,” he replied. “Our natural motor abilities are so finely tuned that there is little that technology can do to improve on them at the moment. The risks of the implantation do not outweigh the benefits for someone with unimpaired motor function.”

However, other researchers are working to adapt some of Viventi’s work to improve the function of prosthetics, as well as to improve testing for breast cancer, according to an NYU-Poly release.

Viventi lives in Manhattan. He has worked at NYU-Poly for three years.

Companies: NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Series: Brooklyn

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