A deep understanding of the brain has created unprecedented opportunities to alleviate the challenges of disability. Scientists and engineers are drawing inspiration from biology itself to create breakthrough technologies that restore function to bodies affected by injury, aging, or disease – from prosthetic limbs that effortlessly navigate difficult terrain to nervous systems digital cameras that move the body after a spinal cord injury.
With the creation of the new K. Lisa Yang Center for Bionics, MIT is advancing the development and deployment of enabling technologies that communicate directly with the nervous system to alleviate a wide range of disabilities. Scientists, clinicians and engineers at the center will work together to create, test and disseminate bionic technologies that integrate with both body and mind.
The center is funded by a $ 24 million donation to MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research from philanthropist Lisa Yang, a former investment banker committed to advocating for people with visible and invisible disabilities. His previous donations to MIT have also enabled the establishment of the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Center for Molecular Therapeutics in Neuroscience, Hock E. Tan and K. Lisa Yang Center for Autism Research, Y. Eva Tan Professorship in Neurotechnology, and the post-baccalaureate program endowed with K. Lisa Yang.
âThe K. Lisa Yang Center for Bionics will provide a dynamic hub for scientists, engineers and designers at MIT to work together on revolutionary responses to the challenges of disability,â said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “With this visionary gift, Lisa Yang is launching a powerful collaborative strategy that will have a broad impact on a wide range of human conditions – and she is sending a bright signal to the world that the lives of people with disabilities matter deeply.”
“K. Lisa Yang Center for Bionics”
Video by Jimmy Day / MIT Media Lab
An interdisciplinary approach
To develop prosthetic limbs that move according to brain commands or optical devices that bypass an injured spinal cord to stimulate muscles, bionic developers must integrate knowledge from a wide range of fields – from robotics and intelligence artificial to surgery, biomechanics and design. The K. Lisa Yang Center for Bionics will be deeply interdisciplinary, bringing together experts from three MIT schools: Science, Engineering, and Architecture and Planning. With clinical and surgical collaborators from Harvard Medical School, the center will ensure that research advances are tested quickly and reach those in need, including those in traditionally underserved communities.
To support ongoing efforts to move towards a disability-free future, the center will also offer four endowed scholarships for MIT graduate students working in bionics or other research areas focused on improving the lives of people with disabilities.
âI am delighted to support MIT in this major research effort to enable powerful new solutions that improve the quality of life for people with disabilities,â Yang said. “This new commitment expands my philanthropic investment in the physical disability arena, and I look forward to the center’s positive impact on countless lives, here in the United States and abroad.”
The center will be led by Hugh Herr, professor of media arts and sciences at MIT’s Media Lab, and Ed Boyden, professor of neurotechnology Y. Eva Tan at MIT, professor of biological engineering, brain and cognitive sciences, and d media arts. and science, and a researcher at the McGovern Institute at MIT and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
A double amputee himself, Herr is a pioneer in the development of bionic limbs to improve mobility in people with physical disabilities. âThe world is in dire need of relief from the handicaps imposed by today’s non-existent or broken technologies. We must continually aim for a technological future in which disability is no longer a common life experience, âsays Herr. âI am delighted that the Yang Center for Bionics is making a measurable contribution to improving the human experience for so many people. “
Boyden, who is a renowned creator of tools for analyzing and controlling the brain, will play a key role in merging bionic technologies with the nervous system. âThe Yang Center for Bionics will be a research center like no other in the world,â he says. âA deep understanding of complex biological systems, coupled with rapid advancements in bionic human-machine interfaces, means that we will soon have the capacity to offer entirely new strategies for people with disabilities. It is an honor to be part of the founding team of the center.
During its first four years, the K. Lisa Yang Center for Bionics will focus on the development and testing of three bionic technologies:
- digital nervous system, to eliminate movement disorders caused by spinal cord injury by using computer-controlled muscle activations to regulate limb movements while simultaneously stimulating spinal cord repair;
- exoskeletons of limbs controlled by the brain, to help weak muscles and allow natural movement for those affected by stroke or musculoskeletal disorders; and
- bionic limb reconstruction, to restore the natural movements controlled by the brain as well as the sensation of touch and proprioception (awareness of position and movement) of the bionic limbs.
A fourth priority will be to develop a mobile delivery system to ensure that patients in medically underserved communities have access to prosthetic services. Researchers will field test a system that uses a mobile clinic to perform the medical imaging needed to design personalized and comfortable prosthetic limbs and to tailor prostheses to the patients where they live. Investigators plan to bring this mobile delivery system to Sierra Leone as a first step, where thousands of people have been amputated during the country’s 11-year civil war. While the amputee population continues to increase each year in Sierra Leone, today less than 10 percent of those in need benefit from functional prostheses. Through the mobile delivery system, a key central goal is to increase production and access to functional limb prostheses for Sierra Leoneans in need.
âThe mobile prosthetics service powered by MIT’s K. Lisa Yang Center for Bionics is an innovative solution to a global problem,â said Julius Maada Bio, president of Sierra Leone. âI am proud that Sierra Leone is the first location to deploy this cutting edge digital design and manufacturing process. As the head of a government that promotes innovative technologies and prioritizes the development of human capital, I am delighted that this pilot project is giving Sierra Leoneans (especially in rural areas) access to prosthetic prostheses. quality member and thus improves their quality of life.
Together, Herr and Boyden will initiate research at the Bionics Center with three other MIT professors: Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences Canan Dagdeviren, Professor Walter A. Rosenblith of Cognitive Neuroscience Nancy Kanwisher, and Professor David H. Koch (1962) from the Robert Langer Institute. They will work closely with three clinical collaborators from Harvard Medical School: Marco Ferrone, an orthopedic surgeon; Matthew Carty, plastic surgeon; and Nancy Oriol, Faculty Associate Dean for Community Engagement in Medical Education.
âLisa Yang and I share a vision of a future in which everyone in the world has the right to live without a debilitating disability if they want to,â Herr adds. âThe Yang Center will be a powerful catalyst for true innovation and impact in the bionic space, and I am delighted to be working with my colleagues at MIT and our accomplished clinical partners at Harvard, to take important steps forward to help. to realize this vision. “