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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 top-notch researchers agreed to become testimonials for our company.


Dr. Cindy Chestek

The University of Michigan

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

None of my 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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