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Science AMA Series: We’re Karim Oweiss & Kevin Otto, engineering professors at the University of Florida and PIs in DARPA’s Targeted Neuroplasticity Training program. We both enjoy helping people with neurological injuries and disorders. AUA!
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A third of all human disease is related to the nervous system. That’s why President Obama launched the BRAIN Initiative. That’s why the two of us have devoted our lives to studying the brain. We are Karim Oweiss, professor of electrical and computer engineering, biomedical engineering, and neuroscience, and Kevin J. Otto, associate professor of biomedical engineering. We’re both faculty in the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and members of a campus-wide community at the University of Florida that is working together to understand the structure and function of the brain, and to unlock breakthrough therapies. Last month we were each awarded $4.2 million from the Department of Defense to investigate how applying electrical stimulation to peripheral nerves can strengthen neuronal connections in the brain and accelerate learning. Our research projects – which are actually totally separate – are two of eight projects nationwide selected for the Targeted Neuroplasticity Training program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. To the best of our ability we will answer questions about these projects, as well as anything you might want to about emerging neurotechnologies and tools, neurological disorders and diseases, and the effects of aging on the brain. Here’s a little more information about us: Karim Oweiss (@koweiss): My lab is focused on studying the basic mechanisms of sensorimotor integration and learning, and engineering clinically viable brain machine interface (BMI) systems to restore, augment or repair damaged neurological functions like hearing, sight and movement. We focus on mechanisms of neural integration and coordination in executive control areas of the brain such as the prefrontal and sensorimotor cortices. We’re working to understand how ensembles of neurons represent and integrate multiple sensory cues to guide motor action; how neural computations take place at the cellular and population levels with cell-type specificity; how neural ensemble activity can be decoded to actuate artificial devices; and how precise control of cell-type-specific events can perturb and control neural responses to evoke desired behavioral outcomes, as well as long-lasting plastic changes in neural circuits that mediate this behavior. An ultimate goal is to make a quantum leap in machine intelligence by developing bio-inspired smart algorithms for a variety of applications such as autonomous vehicles and Lifelong Learning Machines. I moved my lab to the University of Florida in 2014 after 11 years as faculty at Michigan State University. I am a professor in UF’s Department of Electrical Engineering, with affiliate faculty appointments in the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering and the McKnight Brain Institute. I received my Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I’m a senior member of the IEEE, received the excellence in Neural Engineering award from NSF, and am editor of the book: Statistical Signal Processing for Neuroscience and Neurotechnology (2010). Kevin Otto (@OttoKev): My research is focused on engineering neural interfaces for both research purposes as well as treatment options in neurological injuries or disease. In particular, multi-channel implantable microdevices in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. These interfaces are being investigated for many applications including sensory replacement, cognitive functional therapy, and neuromodulation for autonomic therapies. In 2014, I joined the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering at UF as an associate professor after eight years as faculty at Purdue University. My post-doc fellowship at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, was in biomedical engineering and in the department of otolaryngology with a focus on cochlear implants. I earned my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Arizona State University. I am the co-chair for this year’s National Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Conference. We will be back at 1 pm ET to answer your questions, ask us anything! Hey everyone, we’re jumping on now to answer your questions until 3pm ET