staff, staff, January 23, 2015

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During football and basketball games, BTN LiveBIG will spotlight notable examples of research, innovation and community service from around the conference. In-Game stories will provide more background on these features, and the opportunity to view the videos again.

From a military standpoint, one of the most significant features of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the impact of advances in things like body armor, medical treatment, and logistic and communication technologies. Thousands of soldiers today survive combat injuries that would have been fatal just a generation or two before.

However, this creates a new set of challenges, according to Pedro Irazoqui, professor at Purdue University?s Waltham School of Biomedical Engineering.

?Soldiers that used to get killed in roadside explosions or bomb attacks [are] now surviving those explosions,? he explained. ?The result is that instead of not coming home, they come home with a series of injuries that they?ve survived because of the armor they?re wearing.?

That means a rising U.S. population of amputees and a higher rate of various brain-related conditions, ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to epilepsy, Irazoqui said. And treatment of these ailments is frequently problematic, he added. For instance, the 25 percent of brain-injury sufferers who end up with epilepsy often don?t have a smooth road to recovery.

?You?ve got patients who have seizures occasionally and they?re not debilitating, and you have patients who take anti-epileptic drugs and respond well to them,? he said. ?But then you also have 30 to 40 percent of all epileptics who don?t respond at all to the anti-epileptic drugs. And then the two-thirds of patients who do respond have side effects so severe that they?ve compared being on anti-epileptic medication to being on chemotherapy for the rest of their life.?

Fortunately, Irazoqui and other students and faculty at Purdue are working on a potentially revolutionary solution to these problems: implantable devices (some of them smaller than a fingernail) that could conceivably do everything from providing targeted treatment of brain disorders to giving amputees complete control over ?smart? prosthetics.

[btn-post-package]?It?s been coined with the term ?electroceuticals,? and it refers to electrical therapies of disorders like epilepsy or Parkinson?s,? Irazoqui said. ?The advantage is that because it?s electrical we can pinpoint where we deliver the therapy and we can measure the instantaneous response of the cells we?re stimulating to that therapy, so we can control it very tightly. We can focalize it in space very accurately so you don?t get the same sorts of side effects that you would from a drug that you take orally and is distributed throughout your body.

?We can design computers to interface with the brain and simultaneously record what the brain is doing so we know what?s going on,? he added. ?We know, for example, when a seizure is going to begin, and then we can also act on the brain so we can modulate it. Or we can understand when the brain wants to initiate, for example, a movement in an amputated limb.?

Watch the one-minute video above to find out more about this innovative technology.

By Brian Summerfield