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Neural Prosthesis Development

The NIDCD has supported development of the cochlear implant, a device able to electrically stimulate auditory neurons in profoundly deaf patients, since the inception of the Institute in 1988. A portion of that financial support has come from the award of research contracts to investigators responding to requests for contract proposals (RFPs), as well as the award of the traditional research project grants in response to investigator-initiated applications. The contract-based research program grew from a sustained effort to develop an implantable prosthesis that would operate through direct electrical stimulation of neurons in patients with profound impairments such as blindness, paralysis, or deafness. The principal investigators supported by this set of contracts, collectively known as the Neural Prosthesis Program, were required to attend an annual workshop started in 1971 in order to rapidly disseminate advances and share new techniques across program areas. Quarterly progress reports (QPRs) written by these investigators were made publicly available in order to disseminate information to a wider audience and foster interactions among investigators working on similar projects. The NIDCD no longer posts QPRs for contract awards. Principal Investigators may provide QPRs on their own websites, in addition to publishing their work in peer-reviewed manuscripts.

The NIDCD Neural Prosthesis Development program seeks to continue this successful paradigm for the development of new prosthetic devices within the NIDCD mission areas of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language. Future development efforts will include electrical stimulation as well as novel man-machine interfaces that promise improved patient rehabilitation following damage to neural structures that subserve sensory input or muscle control. Sustained research efforts will be necessary to identify and pursue the best avenues for continued neural prosthesis development, and both the contract and grant mechanisms will be important vehicles for the support of this research.

Manuscripts published in the primary literature have been critically evaluated, and thus remain the best source of information on advances in the field. Abstracts from published manuscripts can be obtained from PubMed. For a summary of research project grants directed toward these topic areas, search the NIH RePORT Expenditures and Results database (RePORTER) using the phrase “neural prosthesis” or other relevant keywords.

For questions or comments about the NIDCD Neural Prosthesis Development program, contact:

Roger L. Miller, Ph.D.
Program Director
Neural Prosthesis Development
6001 Executive Blvd., MSC 9670
Bethesda, Maryland 20892-9670
(Phone) 301-402-3458

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