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Customer Stories

Blackrock Microsystems is very proud to call some of the most prominent neuroscience researchers their customers. We maintain a strong relationship with many of them based on close cooperation, honest feedback and trust.

We are thankful that a variety of these highly-respected researchers agreed to become testimonials for our company.


Dr. Krishna Shenoy

Neural Prosthetics Systems Lab – Stanford University

Conducts neuroscience, neuroengineering and translational research to better understand how the brain controls movement and to design medical systems to assist people with paralysis.

“What’s most unique about the Utah array after 16 years of using it … how “completely enabling” it has been to our research.”

Dr. Krishna Shenoy is the director of the Neural Prosthetic Systems Laboratory (NPSL) and professor of electrical engineering and neurobiology at Stanford University. Krishna’s research with the NPSL is directed at investigating the neural basis of movement preparation and generation using a combination of electrophysiological, behavioral, theoretical, and computational techniques.

“The two folds of our lab’s research are basic motor neuroscience and basic motor brain machine interfaces”, Krishna explains. “For this we need to access large populations of neurons at the same time because we’re very interested in understanding how each and every individual arm movement will be repeated exactly the same…”

Krishna and his team have been using Utah arrays in their research for 16 years. “We have a lot of experience with these arrays, they have produced, not just in our lab but across the field, the highest numbers of simultaneous neural recordings for any kind of silicon-based system.” Krishna thinks of three things when he thinks of Blackrock equipment, “I think of arrays, I think of Cerebus and the products, software and so forth, and I think of human application.”

When asked what was most unique about the Utah array after 16 years of using it, Krishna explained how “completely enabling” the array has been to their research. “Circa 2000, it was pretty rare to record from multiple neurons at the same time. It’s sort of shocking to think about that now, but most labs and the vast majority of my post doc work…was done with single electrodes. You’d put one in, record from that neuron…and you’d just know what that one neuron does. You’d build up this mental picture and feel as though you knew what was going on across the population of neurons in any one task but you didn’t’ know. So we really wanted to focus a lot of our work on how populations (of neurons) operate…we wanted to base our labs on studying populations of neurons, and the Utah array as well as microwires were really the only two games in town.”

When asked what the biggest research challenge that Blackrock’s system helped overcome, Krishna explained “I think its understanding how the brain operates on a millisecond by millisecond basis. It’s basically like having enough pixels in your microscope, you have enough of those electrodes in there to get a picture. Because you have so many of those observations at the same time, you’re able to actually peer back through the noise that comes from the neurons themselves to understand what the signals are. So it’s basically saying millisecond by millisecond I can read out this monkey brain, know what he wants to do, and have a computer cursor enact it, which is the core technology on which human brain machine interphases work these days, all the stuff from the wonderful monkey labs across the country translate it, and the same thing on the basic science side. So it enables looking at large populations of neurons on a millisecond time scale and I think it’s across the field it really changed the way in which people view how important populations of neurons are in the brain.”

Krishna’s motivation is neuroscience and in his work there’s “a combination of two things really: both just pure curiosity in neuroscience, as well as a deep desire to help people with paralysis. I want to use (my) knowledge to help people somehow, hopefully through prosthetics one day.” When asked if he would recommend Blackrock to a colleague, Krishna replied “yes, in fact I do.” We are grateful to Dr. Krishna Shenoy and his team for choosing Blackrock to be a part of their research.


Dr. Pieter Roelfsema

Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience

Creation of a visual cortical prosthesis to restore rudimentary form of vision for the blind

“It was the only game in town, I think, the only realistic approach to make this happen. The thing that makes the Utah Array attractive is that it gives you [wide sampling] along the surface of the cortex.”

Dr. Pieter Roelfsema is the director of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and professor at the Free University and the Amsterdam University Medical Center. His research group conducts research directed at understanding cortical mechanisms of visual perception, memory, and plasticity, and one of their main goals is to create a visual cortical prosthesis to restore rudimentary form of vision for the blind.

With expertise ranging across subjects like vision, cognition, visual attention, visual cortex, and neuropharmacology, Pieter’s current studies include visual perception, plasticity and memory in the visual system, using multi-electrode recording techniques in experimental animals, behavioral paradigms in humans, and computational neuroscience approaches.

Pieter has been a client of Blackrock Microsystems since 2000, when he started to use the Utah Array for many of his projects. Pieter’s research on visual prosthetics using the Utah Array began in 2013, when he said “Let’s try to implant 1,000 electrodes in the visual cortex”. This idea led him to reach out to Florian and Rob at Blackrock to see how this goal could be accomplished.

When asked about the Utah Array, Pieter said, “It was the only game in town, I think, the only realistic approach to make this happen. The thing that makes the Utah Array attractive is that it gives you [wide sampling] along the surface of the cortex.” Instead of not having many contact points in one location in the cortex, his group can indeed sample from multiple locations, thanks to the Utah Array.

Pieter’s final decision to use Blackrock was not the just because of the recording side of things, “It was the stimulation side of things … to get 1,000 channels of stimulation, most of the other companies said in 2013, no, we are not going to be able to do that, at least not for a reasonable price and Blackrock said, yes, we can do it.”

He credits Blackrock equipment for helping his cortical prosthetic research, claiming it would have been “impossible” without the Utah Array and the help from Blackrock engineers. A lot of Pieter’s research involves non-human primate subjects, where “70% or more has been done with Blackrock arrays, and the company has a very good track record. What we asked from Blackrock was not only a 1,000-channel connector, it needed to be integrated into a titanium implant that was 3-D printed to conform to the shape of the skull of the monkey…so it was not only making the connector, but the added complexity of working with components that had to fit to the monkey’s skull. That kind of work is already amazing.”

When asked what it is about recording and stimulating across a larger area of the monkey brain, Pieter said “Our goal is to demonstrate that by stimulating many electrodes, we could restore a rudimentary form of vision for blind people. Providing proof of principle that this can work would not have been possible without this 1,000-channel implant, it makes all the difference.”

Pieter says that he is “well supported” by Blackrock and he doesn’t think it could be better. He recommends our company to his colleagues, and feels pride when he thinks of Blackrock. “I think you should be proud to be the first to develop this array and have it in humans and go through that whole difficult process,” Pieter says. “Helping us with this 1,000-channel thing was very big for us.” Thank you Pieter for being a loyal client and letting us be a part of the exciting research you are doing.


Dr. Robert Hampson

Wake Forest School of Medicine

Developing a hippocampal neural prosthetic to facilitate human memory encoding and recall.

“When we switched over to human research, I knew that there were a couple of needs that were not going to be fulfilled by pretty much anyone other than Blackrock.”

Rob Hampson is a professor and researcher of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He oversees three labs covering rodent, primate and human research. His research interests include hippocampus, neurons, memory, action potentials, and models neurological. Rob has been using Blackrock equipment in his research since 2013, which has supported seven published research articles.

Rob’s passion is how mammalian brain processes memories. “We collect data from lots of neurons at a time, look at them as a whole, and look for patterns and discovered that yes, there are in fact patterns tied to the information being coded … and that is something that took us from rats to monkeys and then to humans.” Rob continues, “When we switched over to human research, I knew that there were a couple of needs that were not going to be fulfilled by pretty much anyone other than Blackrock.” It appealed to Rob that Blackrock has a strong presence in human research and human electrophysiology saying, “Blackrock has a very strong presence in several DARPA-funded programs” referencing the DARPA program “Revolutionizing Prosthetics” by Andy Schwartz at the University of Pittsburgh. “It was something that when a sales team came from Blackrock, I went over to see what they had to offer with the idea that was what I wanted to conduct my experiments with. And yes, it was exactly what I wanted and needed to conduct my experiments.”

Rob’s research faced criticism about the patterns he was seeing. He credits Blackrock equipment for being reliable and repeatable to produce the results as expected therefore supporting his research findings. He also says noise is another issue where Blackrock “is absolutely top-notch [with] so many different ways to deal with the noise issues, filtering, adaptive filtering and active noise cancellations and everything else.” Rob has learned and contributed noise reducing techniques by attending Blackrock’s Hands-on Workshop conducted by our Technical Support Team. He states, “Not only is the equipment top notch and you all stand behind it, but when you need assistance, that was actually something that appealed to me, the tech support people know research as opposed to just knowing the device.”

When Rob was asked what Blackrock can do better to support his research, he said, “I’m not going to say better, because I’m really happy.” As a result, he has recommended Blackrock to many colleagues because, “I like the system, Blackrock is reliable. The company stands behind the products, I don’t have any issues with getting the tech support and help I need. Frankly, the hands-on workshop is a major recommendation because I know I can say to somebody, get the system, go to the workshop, and not only will you learn all the basics, but then you can sit there and say okay this is my specific problem and somebody will sit there with you and help you work it out.” Further, “I just want to say that I definitely appreciate working with everybody at Blackrock. I appreciate the fact that folks are interested in the research we’re doing… yes, it is important for the people at Blackrock to know what we’re doing with their equipment.”

Rob’s research is of great significance to the neuroscience community and he has provided beneficial input on some of our latest product developments. Thank you Rob, for your important research into how memories are encoded and selecting Blackrock to be a part of it.


Dr. Rodrigo Quiroga

University of Leicester

Principles of visual perception and memory formation; discovering “Concept Cells” or “Jennifer Aniston Neurons.”

“I know I can rely on the strong technical people at Blackrock who are ready to help me if I have a problem.”

Rodrigo Quiroga is a renowned neuroscientist in the field of visual perception and memory in humans. Rodrigo has been using Blackrock ephys equipment for over eight years in a variety of clinical research projects around the world.

Rodrigo currently uses Blackrock’s Neuroport system with Cabrio headstages to record from individual neurons in the hippocampus and surrounding cortex in human epilepsy patients. He says that variability from experiment-to-experiment, and patient-to-patient, is his biggest challenge, and chooses Blackrock products for reliability and consistency, to maximize the chance of success. Rodrigo explains that, “The human recordings are so unique and valuable, we cannot afford any uncertainty in the system hardware or software.”

He also noted his confidence stems from Blackrock understanding the details of his human research needs and their approach to customizing equipment for it. “Blackrock produced the headstages I wanted, with the functionality I needed. We went through 5-10 iterations in headstage design, and now the headstages are perfect. We’ve used them in five different hospitals and they all work fine.” It’s important to him that Blackrock keeps innovating and breaking through barriers, because researchers want to do more in the human space. “We don’t want to be limited.”

Rodrigo cited one example where Blackrock responded immediately to an issue with his equipment by flying halfway around the globe to resolve the problem. He appreciated that Blackrock took his research serious enough to provide that level of customer support stating, “The key factors for recommending Blackrock equipment to other researchers are, first: The Service. You [Blackrock] understand the need of having urgent assistance.” He continues, “I know I can rely on the strong technical people at Blackrock who are ready to help me if I have a problem.”

Rodrigo’s research and active collaboration with Blackrock have led to many product innovations. Thank you for being a pioneer in the study of the human brain, a long-time customer and collaborator.


Dr. Cynthia Chestek

The University of Michigan

Brain-machine interfaces for the control of multiple degrees of freedom movements

Blackrock electrodes “Are one of the best products … for chronic neural recording. All of my PhD publications used the Utah Array [because] … trying to figure out long‐term systems for human use. None of that research would have been possible without the Utah Array.”

Cindy has been a user of Blackrock products since her days as a PhD student and post‐doc in Krishna Shenoy’s lab at Stanford University. Her research focuses on brain-machine interfaces for the control of multiple degrees of freedom movements, such as finger movements. By combining brain signal and peripheral signal sources, she can control prosthetic limbs and works on reanimating paralyzed limbs.

Cindy relies on Blackrock’s electrodes because of their quality control standard, which is high enough for use in human implants. With research subjects such as primates or humans, products must work and last an absolute minimum of 6 months to a year. Blackrock’s electrodes “Are one of the best products-…-for chronic neural recording,’ Cindy says. She also credits Blackrock as a key element in all of her work: “… -All of my PhD publications used the Utah Array [because]- … -they’re all about stability or instability of the signals and in trying to figure out long‐term systems for human use. None of that research would have been possible without the Utah Array.” When asked to describe Blackrock in 10 words or less she responded by saying:“100 electrodes, simultaneous recordings, and layer 5 motor cortex.”


Dr. Gregory Clark

The University of Utah

Peripheral nerve interfaces to restore sensory and motor function

Blackrock is a company that translates science fiction into fact.

Greg was one of the first users of the Utah Array and has enjoyed a close relationship with Dr. Richard Normann, one of its primary inventors, for many decades. When Greg first began his research career, there were very few commercially available solutions that would allow an array to communicate with other electronics. That is until the Utah Array was invented.

Greg’s research focuses on using peripheral nerve interfaces to restore sensory and motor function; in particular to help restore these processes after spinal cord injury or limb loss. He describes his work as “Truly transformative to begin to interact with people who can appreciate the sense of having their hand restored again.”

According to Greg, this work would not have been possible without Blackrock. “Over the last decade or more Blackrock has played a central role in moving [translational work in the peripheral nervous system] forward from the pre‐translational, clinical work, and animal models to our current work in humans. Blackrock has been an essential part of that enterprise and will continue to be.”


Dr. Grégoire Courtine

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL)

Restoring motor functions after spinal cord injury

Blackrock’s wireless technology played a critical role in my research.

Grégoire has spent the last 15 years working on the restoration of locomotion after spinal cord injuries. The specialty of his lab is to apply a multidisciplinary approach to this challenge, which includes both electrical and pharmacological stimulation of the spinal cord. The goal is to reanimate the circuits that are below the injury and thus not functional.

In the beginning of his research, a computer would send the movement signals to the injured nerve cells below the injury that normally produces locomotion. This method resulted in movement of the paralyzed limb, but not in a way that allowed subjects to control the movement themselves. Currently, Grégoire uses a Utah Array implanted in the motor cortex and the CerePlex W to wirelessly send the recorded brain signals to a stimulator in the injured spinal cord area. “The wireless allowed me to conduct my experiments in a natural setting, which was critical for my research.”

Locomotion happens very fast. Grégoire and his team thus had to use very low-latency processing to create a near-natural situation. To process the data quickly and in real-time, Grégoire and his team use the Cerebus data acquisition system.

Another aspect to the research is the reliability and proven technology of the Utah Array. The Utah Array is essential because the device is the only electrode array of its kind that is FDA approved for human use. “My ultimate goal is to make paralyzed people walk again.”


Dr. Nicho Hatsopoulos

The University of Chicago

Spatio-temporal dynamics in motor cortex

They are a one-stop shop for the electrodes, the data acquisition, the amplifiers and the stimulators. Blackrock has everything in one place.

Nicho studies the interaction of single neurons creating arm, hand and tongue movements. His original motivation to engage in neuroscience was that he wanted to “Open up the hood and see what’s underneath it.”

Nicho is working with Blackrock’s Stim/Record setup and is a contributor to the development of the Utah Array. The Utah Array allows him to record simultaneously from a large group of cells. What really excites Nicho about simultaneous recording is not only the increased data yield but being able to study the interaction of single cells to create behavior. “What differentiates the Utah Array from other electrodes is its rigid structure, which allows me to understand spatial relationships of neurons.” Nicho’s record of recording spikes from an implanted Utah Array is 9 years.

One of the most exciting moments of Nicho’s research career was when he and his team could see waves of neural activity in the motor cortex for the first time. In addition, Nicho has been working on brain-computer interfaces. He and his team have enabled monkeys to control computer cursors and robots with only their brain and the help of a BCI. “Even though we first showed BCI control over 15 years ago, even now it is still exciting whenever we see it happening.”

 


Dr. Lee Miller

The Northwestern University

Limb motor control

I continue to be impressed by the service.

About 15 years ago, Lee began to move from fundamental research using single electrodes to chronically implanted micro electrode arrays. He and his team work with monkeys with both single and dual Utah Array implants. The single implants in the motor cortex have allowed them to extract information from neurons and translate it into electrical stimulation of muscles that restores voluntary movement to monkeys with temporary paralysis which mimics a spinal cord injury. The dual implants allow them to study the information flow between large numbers of neurons in two different places in the brain, e.g., the pre-motor and the primary motor cortices. Lee’s group has found changes as the monkey learns a new motor behavior in the way signals are processed in the premotor cortex before they are passed on to the motor cortex. They have also used dual implants to study the differences between proprioceptive signals in the brainstem cuneate nucleus, and the somatosensory cortex.

Lee is one of the first users of Blackrock’s CerePlex W wireless headstage. The Cereplex W allows them to conduct experiments outside of the lab setting. They are working to translate the cortically controlled muscle stimulation to the monkey’s home cage, moving much closer to the home setting of a human patient using a similar neuroprosthesis. They also intend to compare the information carried by neurons that they have measured for many years in the lab, with wireless technology recorded in the cage. “The research will really be fundamentally different because of what the wireless technology allows us to do,” Lee says.

In addition to the CerePlex W, Lee has multiple Cerebus systems in his lab and has worked almost exclusively with the Utah Array for the past 15 years. “When you want it to work out of the box, you use the Utah Array. We have tried two or three other electrode types, but I’ve not found anything I prefer.”

 


Dr. Julio Martinez-Trujillo

Western University

Mapping brain circuits

Blackrock equipment works as a block. I can focus on my surgeries and don’t have to worry about anything else.

Julio is working on mapping brain circuits that are responsible for certain behaviors and working memory. He conducts single unit recording of individual brain cells to identify what roles single neurons play for a specific event, such as eye movement. But the brain does not work with one neuron at a time. For Julio, it was critical to record from many individual neurons at the same time. “The Utah Array allows me to record from hundreds of neurons at the same time so I can see how they interact within the same circuits,” Julio says. “Our latest findings suggest that recording from large populations of neurons at the same time is the only way to figure out what is really happening in the brain,” The biggest challenge in his research is to find out which brain area is responsible for what events and is accomplished by the fixed geometry of the Utah Array.

Next to the Utah Array, Julio has a Cerebus system and is working with the CerePlex E digital headstages. “The CerePlex E is really excellent because it is so small and allows me to work with multiple implanted electrodes.”

“What drove me to Blackrock many years ago was that I could focus on the surgical techniques and that I did not have to worry about how the single parts of the system would work together. The service has been excellent. I developed a great relationship with the people at Blackrock over past years.”


Dr. Kazutaka ‘Taka’ Takahashi

University of Chicago

Cerebro‐cerebellar interaction for motor control

Blackrock is all about reliability.

Taka’s research focuses on the primary motor and somatosensory cortical areas. In addition, he studies the dynamic interactions of both spiking activities and local field potentials by implanting multiple arrays and probes on primate and rodent subjects.

For Taka, stimulation is a key strength of Blackrock’s products as he experiences shorter latency periods. Another key element that keeps him a loyal Blackrock customer is the top-of-the-line support he receives.

Taka participates as a beta tester for many of Blackrock’s products, a process which facilitates collaboration and provides the company with insight into the industry’s challenges and opportunities. When asked to describe Blackrock in 10 words or less, Taka responded with just one: “Reliable.”

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