Bionics Institute Student Projects 

Please note the Bionics Institute is not restricted to the specific projects detailed below and generally welcomes project ideas from students provided they are compatible with our overall research themes.

Please contact the supervisor listed to discuss any of the projects listed below, and cc the enquiry to the Institute’s HR Manager, Amelia Cavanagh acavanagh@bionicsinstitute.org

Optical and electrical stimulation of auditory neurons

Supervisors: Dr Rachael Richardson, Dr James Fallon and Dr Andrew Wise

The aim of this project is to develop the next generation of cochlear implants that combine optical stimulation with electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve in order to improve the precision of the auditory signal necessary for a breakthrough in cochlear implant performance. The project will use optogenetic techniques to express a light sensitive ion channel in auditory neurons so that they can be activated with a low-powered blue light source.

The project will use electrophysiological recordings to examine whether optical stimulation can improve the spatial precision of neural activation necessary for improved auditory perception with cochlear implants. We will also use in vitro techniques to compare optical and electrical stimulation of auditory neurons in detail. A significant advantage of improved spatial selectivity from optical stimulation of the auditory nerve would be the ability to stimulate independent channels that would greatly enrich the auditory percept from a cochlear implant, such as the ability to perceive music.

This project will suit a student who has a first class Honours degree or equivalent in any of the following disciplines: physiology, neuroscience, biophysics or biomedical engineering.

Hidden Hearing Loss

Supervisors: Dr James Fallon and Dr Andrew Wise

Many people who have difficulty understanding speech, particularly in noisy situations, may be misdiagnosed as having normal hearing and therefore remain untreated. This may be due to a loss of functional auditory nerves and their synapses that normally carry complex sound signals from the cochlear hair cells to the brain, rather than a loss in auditory sensitivity. This loss results in a reduction in the fidelity of the temporal encoding of sounds that is crucial for understanding speech, particularly in challenging hearing situations such as a noisy restaurant. This project will investigate the effects of moderate sound exposure on the auditory pathway using behavioural experiments, acute electrophysiological experiments and anatomical studies. The ultimate outcome of this project will be a clinical diagnostic tool for hidden hearing loss which will enable the development of clinically relevant treatments tailored to individuals.

Restoring binaural processing by experience and training with binaural cues

Supervisors: Dr James Fallon and Dr Andrew Wise

Bilateral cochlear implantation is increasingly common, particularly for young children, and results in an increase in performance for both sound localization and speech discrimination in noise compared to unilateral implantation. However, the clinical outcomes for bilateral cochlear implantees fall short of expectations, since their ability to utilize binaural information does not approach that of normal listeners. A lack of experience with interaural time difference cues is thought to underlie this poor performance. This project will investigate whether chronic bilateral cochlear implant use can improve the processing of binaural cues using behavioural experiments, acute electrophysiological experiments and anatomical studies to determine the structural changes that underlie the functional changes. This project will provide evidence to drive the technical innovations required to improve the performance of bilateral cochlear implantees in everyday noisy environments.

Extending the safe limits of cochlear implant stimulation

Supervisors: Dr James Fallon, Dr Andrew Wise and Prof Rob Shepherd

Contemporary cochlear implants deliver safe electrical stimulation of the cochlea under strict guidelines to minimize the release of toxic electrochemical byproducts and damage associated with metabolic stress of the stimulated neurons. However, the currently defined limits for cochlear implant stimulation are based on acute direct stimulation of the brain and likely significantly underestimate the true safe levels. This project will attempt to extend the safe stimulation levels using chronic stimulation studies, acute electrophysiological experiments and anatomical studies to determine the maximum safe stimulation levels. This project will provide evidence that the safe stimulation levels for cochlear implants are significantly greater than those presently defined. This will enable the next generation of cochlear implants to use smaller electrodes and new stimulation strategies leading to improved clinical outcomes for cochlear implant users.

Current focussing via simultaneous stimulation in cochlear implants

Supervisors: Dr James Fallon, Prof Robert Shepherd and Dr Mohit Shivdasani

Cochlear implants have a limited number of effective stimulation sites due to the conductive nature of the fluid filled cochlea.  Current focussing via simultaneous stimulation of multiple electrodes is considered the most likely emerging technology to improve the resolution of the stimulus and produce improved hearing for patients.  However, little is known about the electrochemical safety associated with this approach.

The student will develop an in-vitro platform for studying the electrode-tissue interface using this stimulation strategy for conventional platinum electrodes and novel capacitor electrodes and evaluate its safety.

This project will suit a student who is looking to do an Honours or Master’s (possibility to extend to a PhD) degree or equivalent in any of the following disciplines: physiology, neuroscience, biomedical science or biomedical engineering.

ElectRx - Vagal nerve stimulation for the treatment of inflammation

Supervisors: Dr James Fallon, Prof Rob Shepherd and Dr Sophie Payne

This project will develop technology for Electrical Prescriptions (ElectRx) designed to create a feedback-controlled (i.e. closed-loop) neuromodulation system that will provide therapeutic benefits by regulating peripheral neural circuits. Specifically, this project will develop electrical stimulation devices and control systems for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease via stimulation of the vagal nerve. This project will investigate whether stimulation of the vagal nerve can reduce inflammation using chronic and acute electrophysiological experiments and anatomical studies. The ultimate aim of this project is to produce a device ready for a first-in-human clinical trial of the effectiveness of selective stimulation of vagal pathways to the inflamed bowel.

A systematic study of the effects of direct current generated via a bionic device

Supervisors: Prof Rob Shepherd, Prof Paul Carter and Dr James Fallon

Neural prostheses such as cochlear implants and retinal implants stimulate nerve tissue in the body using charge balanced waveforms. For many years it has been known that using non charge balanced pulses leads to the passage of DC (direct current) which can be harmful to tissue. Where stimulators malfunction and accidentally cause DC to flow, even a few microamps can result in tissue damage. While manufacturers can prevent the flow of DC in electrodes by using capacitors, the size of capacitors required means they take up valuable space inside the implant housing and they increase the overall impedance of the electrodes.  For the next generation of devices with hundreds of electrodes (e.g. retinal implants) capacitors cannot be used.

Surprising little is known about the level of DC which causes damage and what factors may be important in the damage process. This project is designed to be the first systematic study of the effects of DC generated via a bionic device. Using a series of carefully designed in vivo studies it will use specially modified stimulators to apply controlled levels of DC independent of other stimulation conditions. The project will focus on cochlear implants and will use the extensive knowledge and research facilities of the Bionics Institute and the University of Melbourne to conduct this work. The project is also part of collaboration with Cochlear Ltd, world leaders in cochlear implant technology, who will provide the device knowledge and equipment necessary to support the project.

This project will suit a student who is looking to do a PhD in any of the following disciplines: physiology, neuroscience, biomedical science or biomedical engineering.

Control protocol for a portable neural stimulator

Supervisor: Dr James Fallon

Novel neurostimulation techniques for a range of treatments from pain alleviation to retinal prosthesis and cochlear implants are commonly needed for preclinical and short-term clinical trial periods before permanent implantation is performed. A portable, battery-powered neural stimulator has been developed at the Bionics Institute for this purpose. In order to assess the safety and efficacy of the stimulation system including the corresponding neural stimulation electrodes in a laboratory setting prior to clinical application, further development of the control protocols is required. You will develop control and communication protocols for the stimulator for specific experimental purposes. Verification, characterisation and documentation of the stimulation will also be required.

This project will suit a student who is looking to do an Honours or Master’s (possibility to extend to a PhD) degree or equivalent in any of the following disciplines: physiology, neuroscience, biomedical science or biomedical engineering.

Using a cochlear implant to understand and treat tinnitus.

Supervisors: Dr James Fallon and Dr Andrew Wise

Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of external input and while most of us have experienced tinnitus, for a significant number of people it can be a permanent and debilitating condition that cannot be treated. Tinnitus is most commonly triggered by trauma to the cochlea caused by loud noises. This project will investigate whether cochlear implant use can reverse the maladaptive changes that occur following cochlear trauma. You will measure changes in tinnitus perception in behavioural experiments and use acute electrophysiological experiments to measure changes in neural firing properties, changes in functional connectivity, and changes in neuronal maps within and between these auditory centres. Finally, gene expression in the auditory brain will be examined via molecular markers that are associated with changes in neural function.

This project will suit a student who is looking to do an Honours or Master’s (possibility to extend to a PhD) degree or equivalent in any of the following disciplines: physiology, neuroscience, biomedical science or biomedical engineering.

Protecting hearing with nanoengineered drug delivery systems

Supervisor: Dr Andrew Wise

Sensorineural hearing loss is a common sensory deficit which typically becomes progressively worse over time having a significant impact on a person's life. If hearing loss has progressed to such an extent that no benefit is gained from using a hearing aid then only a cochlear implant can return some function. Currently, there are no effective therapies to prevent hearing loss or to protect any remaining hearing after cochlear implantation.

The delicate sensory cells in the cochlea are very sensitive to trauma such as loud noise and a certain class of antibiotics used to fight infection. When the sensory cells die the auditory neurons that make connections with them also die. The auditory neurons are the target of a cochlear implant, which works by electrically stimulating the neurons to effectively bypass the lost sensory cells.

This project aims to protect the sensory cells and auditory neurons from damage in order to prevent sensorineural hearing loss. We will use cutting edge nanotechnology to provide long term and controlled delivery of therapeutic drugs in order to prevent progressive hearing loss and to protect residual hearing following cochlear implantation using in vivo deafness models.

This project will suit a student with a background in pharmacokinetics, physiology, neuroscience, biomedical science or biomedical engineering.

Gene therapy for restoring hearing

Supervisor: Dr Rachael Richardson

Sensorineural hearing loss is often ignored until it affects people’s everyday lives. By then there is often significant and (currently) irreversible loss of hair cells and degeneration of auditory neurons. Our recent research has demonstrated that gene therapy in the cochlea can prevent auditory neuron degeneration and even regenerate hair cells after deafness.

This project aims to determine whether:

(i) gene therapy is effective in preventing loss of hair cells and auditory neurons after the onset of deafness, and; (ii) gene therapy can restore hearing after deafness by regenerating lost hair cells and auditory neurons

We are now embarking on new projects that will investigate:

  • Neurotrophin gene therapy for hair cell and auditory neuron protection in progressive hearing loss models
  • Atoh1 gene therapy for hair cell regeneration using in vitro and in vivo models of hearing loss
  • The clinical safety of gene therapy in the cochlea

This project will suit a student with a background in physiology, cell biology, neuroscience, biomedical science or genetics.

Regeneration of the auditory nerve using stem cells and electrical stimulation

Supervisor: Dr Bryony Nayagam (Honorary Research Fellow) 

Cochlear implants function by electrically stimulating auditory neurons in the absence of hair cells, to enable hearing in severe to profoundly deaf individuals. The effectiveness of this device therefore depends on a critical number of surviving auditory neurons. Stem cell transplantation therapy is emerging as a potential strategy for auditory nerve rehabilitation, as differentiated stem cells may provide a source of replacement auditory neurons to the deaf cochlea. The successful engraftment of stem cells into the cochlea will require both the directed growth of new processes and the formation of functional connections with existing structures, and we are investigating these questions using a number of in vitro and in vivo experimental models.

We are particularly interested in the role of electrical stimulation (delivered via a fully implantable stimulator or using multi-electrode arrays) in directing neurite outgrowth and improving functional connectivity in the auditory brainstem. Available projects fall into two general categories and can be tailored to suit individual backgrounds/strengths:

In vitro: investigating the role of multi-electrode arrays in directing growth and enhancing functional activity of stem cell-derived neurons

In vivo investigating the combined effect of stem cell transplantation and electrical stimulation on improving hearing after deafness

These projects are most suitable for PhD candidates.

Understanding differences in outcomes of cochlear implants

Supervisor: Prof Colette McKay

Deafness has a detrimental effect on the structure and function of the auditory system, from loss and demyelinisation of neurons in the auditory nerve, to plastic changes in the brainstem and cortical areas. These changes can have detrimental effects on a person’s ability to understand speech using a cochlear implant. Understanding the mechanisms of these changes, and how they impact on hearing, will lead to ways to optimise the cochlear implant function for each individual.

This research will involve planning and conducting psychoacoustic and electrophysiological experiments designed to understand the individual characteristics that limit or enhance outcomes for those who receive a cochlear implant.

This project will focus on testing a recent hypothesis for a mechanism to explain poor speech understanding: that the response of the auditory neural system in such cases is inconsistent, that is, it varies over time, and this will make it difficult to detect and use the important amplitude modulations in the speech signal and to relearn how to categorise speech sounds after implantation. This hypothesis will be tested by analysing electrophysiological measurements and correlating the findings with behavioural measurements of hearing.

This project will suit a student with a background in audiology, experimental psychology, engineering, neuroscience or a related disciple. Strong computing and statistical skills (Matlab, R or related) will be an advantage.

Making use of the visual amplification of speech

Seeing the mouth movements of a speaker as well as hearing their voice allows a listener to understand the speech more clearly, particularly when background noise levels are high. Recent neuroscience studies have found that this may be due to visual temporal information (from mouth movements) re-setting on-going neural oscillations in the auditory cortex, so that speech sounds arrive at the auditory cortex while it is in an ‘optimally-excitable’ state.  This neural mechanism is proposed to amplify speech signals that are correlated with the speaker’s mouth movements and supress those that are not. In this project, we will validate the methods of detecting visual resetting in auditory cortex using scalp electrodes in normally-hearing listeners, and then test the methods in a group of people who use cochlear implants.

Motivated students with a strong signal-processing and/or engineering background may also investigate whether it’s possible to mimic this neural system with a video camera and simulated hearing aid or cochlear implant sound processor.

This PhD project has capacity for several students. It would suit several graduates with qualifications in in either neuroscience or engineering, with motivation to become familiar with EEG techniques and analyses methods. Experience working with people is desirable. These applicants should have strong data analysis or signal processing skills including use of Matlab and have the interpersonal skills to work with research participants.

Improving speech understanding of cochlear implant users with neural dead regions in the cochlea

Many cochlear implant users do not understand speech very well. One reason for this is the presence of neural ‘dead regions’ in the cochlea. These dead regions affect speech understanding by making it difficult for each component frequency in a speech signal to be independently heard. Thus implant users experience a ‘scrambled’ speech signal. In this project, conducted with adult cochlear implant users, we will use a psychophysical method to determine which parts of the cochlear contain neural dead regions in each individual. Then we will construct an individualised program for each individual that avoids using intra-cochlear electrodes that are near those dead regions. We will then evaluate whether this new individualised program improves their speech understanding. This project is a major opportunity to actually improve the quality of life of cochlear implantees and contribute to novel clinical management techniques.

This PhD project would suit a graduate with qualifications in audiology, neuroscience, engineering, experimental psychology, or related disciplines. Strong interpersonal skills are required as the student will be working directly with deaf individuals with a cochlear implant

Exploring the effect of neural dead regions in the cochlea on hearing with a  cochlear implant

Neural dead regions in the cochlea are regions of the cochlea in a deaf person where there is poor survival of auditory nerve cells. Such regions are not suitable for electrical stimulation with a cochlear implant, but are difficult to identify. The presence of these regions is one main reason that some cochlear implant users do not understand speech well. This project, undertaken with cochlear implant users, will develop an objective method for identifying these dead regions in individuals. Currently we have psychophysical methods that provide clues to the presence of dead regions, but these methods are not suitable for clinical use, or in young children. The project will use electrophysiological methods combined with psychophysical methods to both develop the objective diagnostic tool and to understand more fully what the impact of dead regions are on hearing ability with a cochlear implant.

This PhD project would suit a graduate with qualifications in audiology, neuroscience, engineering, experimental psychology, or related disciplines. Experience with EEG would be an advantage and strong skills in data analysis. Strong interpersonal skills are required as the student will be working directly with deaf individuals with a cochlear implant

Using fNIRS to explore language development in infants

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is a child-friendly brain imaging technique that uses light to detect brain activity. It uses a cap containing light emitters and detectors that the person being imaged wears while doing tasks of interest. In this project, working directly with young normal hearing and hearing impaired infants and children, the student will first obtain normative fNIRS data about the development of important language areas in the brain in normal hearing children. They will then explore the effect of deafness and early intervention on this brain development in individual hearing impaired children. 

This PhD project has capacity for several students. It would suit graduates with qualifications in audiology or speech pathology with motivation to become familiar with fNIRS technical techniques and analyses methods. Experience working with young deaf children and their families is desirable.  Graduates with backgrounds in neuroscience, engineering or related disciplines are also welcome to apply. These applicants should have strong data analysis or signal processing skills including use of MatLab and have the interpersonal skills to work with young children and their families.

Simultaneous fNIRS and EEG studies on sound perception

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is a brain imaging technique that uses light to detect brain activity. It would be of great clinical benefit to be able to use fNIRS in clinical audiology, especially to objectively estimate hearing thresholds in cochlear implant users, where electrical interference from the implant and its control signals interferes with EEG-based methods. However, unlike EEG responses, which vary predictably with stimulus intensity (and other properties), the fundamental relationships between stimulus properties and the fNIRS response remain poorly investigated.

In this project we will use psychophysical assessments in combination with simultaneous EEG and fNIRS recordings, and map out the as-yet unknown links between perceptual experience, EEG measures, and fNIRS measures. Motivated students will have the potential to help move this new technology towards clinical application in cochlear implants users.

This PhD project has capacity for several students. It would suit several graduates with qualifications in in either audiology and speech pathology, neuroscience or engineering, with motivation to become familiar with fNIRS technical techniques and analyses methods. Experience working with people is desirable.  These applicants should have strong data analysis or signal processing skills including use of Matlab and have the interpersonal skills to work with research participants.

Hearing loss, multisensory integration, and speech understanding

Supervisors: Dr Hamish Innes-Brown and Prof Colette McKay  

Understanding speech is a multisensory task, combining hearing, vision and sensorimotor senses. Both deafness and the re-introduction of hearing with a hearing aid or cochlear implant have an impact on how a person integrates information across the senses for speech understanding. These changes due to deafness can also influence the ability of a person to adapt to a new hearing device. This project will explore the effect of deafness on multisensory integration using behavioural measurements (how people integrate simple visual and auditory stimuli or speech stimuli) and developing objective correlates of integration ability using a combination of electrophysiology and brain imaging using fNIRS. FNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) is a user-friendly brain imaging technique that uses light to detect brain activity. It uses a cap containing light emitters and detectors that the person being imaged wears while doing tasks of interest. The combination of behavioural and objective measurements will help to gain a full understanding of the mechanisms of successful multisensory integration and how it relates to speech understanding. The project will evaluate the effect of deafness on multisensory integration by comparing normal hearing listeners to people with different degrees of hearing loss.

This PhD project has capacity for several students. It would suit graduates with qualifications in audiology, neuroscience, engineering, experimental psychology or related disciplines. Applicants should have strong data analysis or signal processing skills including use of MatLab. Experience with electrophysiology or brain imaging techniques is desirable.

Assessing joint rigidity of Parkinsonian patients

Supervisors: Dr Thushara Perera, Dr Wesley Thevathasan and Prof Hugh McDermott

Co-contraction of extensor and flexor muscles leads to joint stiffness and general rigidity resulting in a reduced quality of life for those with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Rigidity is typically an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease and forms part of the diagnosis.

Pharmacological therapies and deep brain stimulation can improve rigidity, but precise information is not available because an automated quantitative measure does not exist. To assist clinicians and researchers, we aim to build a portable device to evaluate patient rigidity. This project will help us better understand disease mechanisms and improve treatments to increase patient mobility.

The student will design an instrument using body-worn sensors such as accelerometers, goniometers and strain gauges to measure joint rigidity. This instrument will be validated via comparison to existing subjective measures through a small-scale clinical study.

This project will suit a student who has an electronic engineering background with an interest in medical bionics. Good computational analysis and modelling skills are essential.

Parkinsonian gait analysis using fiducial markers

Supervisors: Dr Thushara Perera and Prof Hugh McDermott

Most patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease have trouble walking. Their gait is often slow, characterised by a shuffling motion. In extreme cases, total loss of movement can leave patients wheelchair-bound. Due to hypertonicity, patients have trouble initiating and terminating gait (gait freezing). Clinical diagnosis is made by observation through simple tasks such as straight line walking and turning on the spot. More complex scientific studies can be conducted using instrumented walkways (GAITRite) or full-body motion tracking (Vicon). These systems require a dedicated workspace and can be relatively expensive. Furthermore, output of such systems cannot be readily interpreted by clinicians. We wish to develop a clinician-oriented low-cost system for gait analysis using fiducial marker tracking. A fiducial marker is an object placed in the field of view of an imaging system which appears in the image produced, for use as a point of reference or a measure.

The student will be responsible for writing software to perform fiducial marker tracking using video input. The algorithm must be able to track the x, y, z coordinates of multiple markers and output results to a relevant file format for analysis. Further work can include the development of algorithms to assess gait, such as step length and freezing duration.

This project is suitable for a student with strong programming and data analysis experience. Familiarity with C, C++, C# and MATLAB are essential.

Improving the functional performance of a bionic eye using psychophysics techniques

Supervisor:  Dr Matt Petoe, Dr Mohit Shivdasani and Dr Lauren Ayton

Over the last decade, bionic eyes have emerged as the most promising technology to restore vision to those suffering from blindness caused by photoreceptor loss. Recipients perceive flashes of light (phosphenes) when the implanted electrodes are stimulated, allowing them to interpret input from a video camera. The quality of the percepts varies between patients, and is largely dependent on stimulus parameters and stimulation strategies.
 
The science of psychophysics is a collection of techniques that allow us to quantify patient perception and validate the performance of a given set of stimulus parameters. We can then optimise the bionic eye to each patient and provide the best possible functional outcomes on tasks involving orientation and mobility (e.g. walking through a crowd), and activities of daily living (e.g. reaching for items on a table top).
 
This project encompasses the psychophysical evaluation of bionic eyes and will examine the effects on functional performance when changes are made to key parameters, with a view to improve fitting and training techniques for bionic eye recipients. Equipment for simulating bionic vision is available and there is scope for a student to also work directly with bionic eye recipients.
 
This project is suitable for a student with a strong background/interest in clinical evaluation. Familiarity with programming (e.g. C++, C#, MATLAB) would be an advantage.

Calcium imaging of retinal ganglion cells in response to suprachoroidal stimulation

Supervisors: Dr Mohit Shivdasani, Dr Rachael Richardson and Dr James Fallon

We have been able to successfully implant electrodes in the eye via the suprachoroidal approach and shown that electrical stimulation elicits activity in the visual cortex of the brain. Through these recordings, we can calculate the spread of activity in the visual cortex but how this correlates with spread of activity in the retina is unknown. The proposed project aims to load calcium dyes into retinal ganglion cells by modifying established techniques described in the literature following which the responses of neurons to suprachoroidal retinal stimulation can be imaged using fluorescent microscopy. A number of parameters will be explored to assess how retinal activity changes with changes in stimuli.

This project will suit a student with a background in physiology, neuroscience, biomedical science, or biomedical engineering. Programming skills would be an advantage.

Design and development of a portable eye tracking device for a retinal prosthesis

Supervisors: Dr Mohit Shivdasani and Dr Matt Petoe

Present retinal prostheses employ an external scene camera fitted to a pair of glasses that acquires images of the visual scene in front of the implant user, and a vision processor that analyses these images. The vision processor instructs the implanted stimulator to stimulate multiple electrodes based on a pre-defined stimulation strategy applied to the processed image in order to evoke perception of phosphenes. However, this process relies on the patient to continuously scan the visual scene by shifting their head side to side, a process that is not natural compared to normal sighted people who scan by moving their eyes. In addition, phosphenes tend to move with eye movements thus making it harder for patients to not move their eyes while performing head scanning. To avoid these issues, it is proposed that an eye tracker incorporated into the glasses could track patients’ eye movements and either change the visual scene dynamically (i.e. allow the patient to scan with their eye), or compensate for the movement of phosphenes by changing the stimulus delivered. However, presently available eye tracking devices are either too bulky or rely on mains power, making them unsuitable for portable use. Therefore, the goal of this project is to build a low-cost, low-power eye tracker and associated processing electronics that could become part of the vision processor.

This project will suit a student with a background in electronic, microelectronic or biomedical engineering. PCB design, knowledge of hardware and programming skills would be an advantage.

Modelling gut movement for a bionic device

Supervisors: Dr James Fallon, Dr Sophie Payne and Mr Owen Burns

The Bionic Institute’s Electrical Prescriptions (ElectRx) device development program aims to create a feedback-controlled (i.e. closed-loop) neuromodulation system that will provide therapeutic benefits by regulating peripheral neural circuits in the gut. As part of this program a model of the movement of the human gut is required to allow evaluation of bionic leadwire systems designed to operate in the gut. This project will analyse human gut movement and develop an in vitro accelerated flexion test to evaluate effects of gut movement on implanted electrode and leadwire assemblies. The ultimate outcome of this project will be a user friendly system that will perform accelerated flexion testing of bionic electrodes and leadwires for our ElectRx implant.

This project will suit a student who is looking to do an Honors or Master’s (possibility to extend to a PhD) degree or equivalent in any of the following disciplines: biomedical science or biomedical or electrical and mechanical engineering.

Assessing the origin of responses within the retina from suprachoroidal stimulation 

Supervisors: Dr Mohit Shivdasani and Dr James Fallon

We have been able to successfully implant electrodes in the eye via the suprachoroidal approach and shown that electrical stimulation elicits activity in the visual cortex of the brain. Results to date suggest that it is likely that we are stimulating retinal neurons however, it is not clear precisely where these signals originate within the retina. Specifically, are we stimulating the ganglion cells directly, neural layers of the retina containing the bipolar and ganglion cells or rods and cones? It is important to be able to confirm the precise site of stimulation as the proportions of neural survival in each patient will be different. Also, it will be worth to assess if different types of cells can be activated through different stimulus waveforms. This will enable us to better understand how visual percepts in the patient may relate to the type of neurons being activated. The use of localised intra-vitreal injections of various nerve blocking drugs will clarify which sites in the retina are being stimulated. Previous studies have shown that this technique will require infusing combinations of: glutamate receptor, sodium and calcium channel blockers into the eye. The efficacy of these drugs will be verified using flash ERG (Electroretinography) before performing electrical stimulation.

This project will suit a student with a background in physiology, neuroscience, biomedical science, or biomedical engineering. Programming skills would be an advantage.

Designing the most suitable electrode geometry for a suprachoroidal retinal implant

Supervisors: Dr Mohit Shivdasani and Dr James Fallon

Present commercial retinal prostheses provide enough vision to achieve simple object discrimination and motion detection; however, they are inadequate for tasks requiring higher spatial resolution such as facial recognition and reading. It has widely been assumed that an array of small, densely packed electrodes will provide the highest resolution, resulting in a global race to develop devices with thousands of electrodes. However, what is often ignored is that current spread from each electrode can cause widespread neural activation and significant overlap of phosphenes between electrodes. While there are stimulation strategies that may limit some of the current spread and the resultant phosphene overlap, an electrode array design that maximises spatial resolution by determining the optimal combination of the electrode size, the electrode spacing, and the stimulation strategy is required.

The aim of this project is to establish the optimal electrode size and spacing, and the stimulation strategy that will maximise the spatial resolution achievable with a suprachoroidal retinal prosthesis. A combination of three different experimental techniques will be employed; (i) behavioural animal studies (ii) in vivo multichannel electrophysiology and (iii) Finite Element Modelling of the retina.

This project will suit a student with a background in physiology, neuroscience, biomedical science, or biomedical engineering. Programming skills would be an advantage.

Improving bionic eye patient outcomes using training software

Supervisors: Dr Matt Petoe and Dr Mohit Shivdasani 

After a low vision patient receives a bionic eye, there is a period of rehabilitation during which they need to become accustomed to the differences between prosthetic vision and the natural vision they previously knew. Some of this rehabilitation can take place in the clinic, but there is a need for patients to have training software that they can use in their own home environment.

"Gamification" is a new concept in rehabilition whereby a patient receives progressively more challenging tasks as they adapt to new skills. For the bionic eye project, gamification could refer to the challenge of finding and identifying high contrast shapes or letters on a screen. To increase the level of challenge, the system could reduce the contrast or size of the target shape, or introduce "distractors" as a patient adapts to the task. Additionally, simulation of everyday activies (such as crossing a pedestrian crossing) could be included. 

This project calls for a student to design an interactive training program for low vision patients. The software must collate the results, assess patient performance and communicate with a remote clinician over an internet connection. If suitable, the resulting software may be used to train the next generation of bionic eye recipients.

This project will suit a student with a strong background/interest in clinical evaluation. Familiarity with programming (eg. C++, C#, Java, LabView, MATLAB) is essential.

Flexion testing bionic lead wires

Supervisors: Mr O Burns and Dr James Fallon

The leadwire assembly, the critical link between the implantable stimulator and the stimulating electrode, is a potential weak point of any bionic device. Therefore, it is important that any leadwire assembly be appropriately tested during development, including accelerated mechanical robustness testing. The Bionics Institute has been a world leader in such testing, including for Australia's first bionic eye. This project will extend the Bionics Institute's custom-designed cochlear implant and bionic eye leadware testers by developing a general purpose bionic leadwire testing system. The ultimate outcome of this project will be a user friendly system that will perform customised accelerated flexion testing of bionic leadwires for implant-specific locations.

This project will suit a student who is looking to do an Honours or Masters (possibly to extend to a PhD) degree or equivalent in any of the following disciplines: biomedical science or biomedical or electrical and mechanical engineering.

A novel deep brain stimulation system for Parkinson's disease therapy

Supervisors: Dr Joel Villalobos and Dr James Fallon

Key words: biomedical engineering, electrophysiology, medical bionics, neuroengineering, Parkinson's disease

Disciplines: biomedical engineering, electrical and electronic engineering

This translational research project will develop a new implantable system to enable closed-loop deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy. Current DBS therapy was approved for treating Parkinson's disease in 2002 and uses pacemaker-like stimulation to treat the symptoms caused by the loss of dopaminergic neurons. We are developing a next-generation system, capable of recording neural signatures from the brain electrodes, in order to provide adaptive stimulation. With the enhanced electrode array and lead system, we also aim to reduce the incidence of undesired side effects (30%) and medical complications (14-27%) related to limitations of the technology.

This project involves technology development and conducting preclinical evaluation of the electrode array and lead, to enable a first-in-human clinical trial. The in vivo efficacy of the electrode array for recording neural activity will be assessed, as well as the tissue response to the new lead system. The project is focused on developing a simpler, minimal surgical approach where all the components are implanted in the head and a single-step electrode insertion is performed. The system will improve DBS therapy by improving stimulation selectivity, which will translate into better symptom relief with fewer side effects. This disease contributes to a major quality of life impairment and burden for caregivers. There is a critical need to address the efficacy issues as DBS is considered the last resort for refractive Parkinson's disease patients.

Real-time analysis of brain imaging data

Supervisor: Dr Hamish Innes-Brown

The Bionics Institute is developing new and innovative ways to assess hearing abilities using brain imaging data. We use electrodes on the scalp to record electrical activity generated in the brain while research participants listen to speech or other sounds. One of our aims is to do this in real time, using brain-computer interface technologies. We are looking for a motivated student or intern with strong programming skills (Matlab, Python or whichever language you think is best!) to help us implement a real-time signal analysis system. This system we envisage will run on a PC or mobile device and interface with our brain imaging hardware. It will display visualisations and summary data calculated from an incoming stream of brain imaging data in real-time. This is an exciting, cutting-edge project that would suit one or two highly motivated individuals with a love of computers, sound and brains!


 

 

 

 

 

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studentProjects_stemcells2.jpg


 
 
 
 
listener pic.jpg
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 studentProjects_eeg 2.jpg

 

 studentproject_hearingX299.jpg

 

 

Projects_electroacoustic_hearing.jpg

 


fNIRS baby_2_ crop_300.jpg


studentproject_bionic hearingx299.jpg

 

 


studentproject_hearingEEGx299.jpg

 

 


studentproject_neurobionics1x299.jpg

student project_pulltest.jpgstudent project_markers for PD.jpg

 

student projects_bionic_eye.jpg

 

 





studentPorjects_calcium_imaging.jpg

 



student_projects_eye_tracking.jpg

 

 

studentprojects_retina.JPG


 

studentproject_visionx199.jpg

 






studentprojects_electrode_bionic eye.jpg








Matt and Diane.jpg



flexion testing skull.jpg




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