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Department of Engineering

Fellowship awarded for implantable devices research to better understand the brain

Fellowship awarded for implantable devices research to better understand the brain

Bioengineer Dr Christopher Proctor has been announced a David Phillips Fellow and awarded £1 million in funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to establish his first independent research group.

Our ability to understand our most complex organ – the brain – is currently constrained by the absence of minimally invasive tools for controlled chemical delivery in the brain. What I propose is a new solution to this problem.

Dr Christopher Proctor

Starting in March 2020, the aim of Dr Proctor’s Fellowship is to develop tools to understand the brain. This will include implants with neuron-like features that can safely deliver a wide range of chemicals in the brain with precise control of when, where, and how much chemical is delivered.

Dr Proctor said implantable devices offer an alternative to systemic delivery of drugs for the treatment of neurological disorders and the study of local circuits in the brain.

“Our ability to understand our most complex organ – the brain – is currently constrained by the absence of minimally invasive tools for controlled chemical delivery in the brain. What I propose during this BBSRC Fellowship is a new solution to this problem: a tiny implant that will enable new discoveries concerning how the brain works and what can be done when it goes wrong,” he said. 

“As chemical signalling is fundamental to all living systems from animals to plants to bacteria, these same research tools may eventually be adapted to other systems to enable fundamental discoveries impacting all manners of life from agriculture to healthcare.”

The work represents another advance in the development of soft, flexible electronics that interface well with human tissue. It builds on prior collaborative research involving Dr Proctor and Professor George Malliaras, Prince Philip Professor of Technology, that successfully demonstrated how an electronic device implanted into the brain can detect, stop and even prevent epileptic seizures. This new treatment for epilepsy works by delivering very small amounts of drug directly to the seizure focus.

Dr Proctor has also been working on an implantable nerve stimulator for the treatment of chronic pain. This ongoing research aims to reduce the invasiveness of implants used in the clinic today and will be another area of focus for Dr Proctor’s research group.

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