Giving back the ability to walk to people with spinal cord injuries is ultimately what NeuralDrive would like to accomplish. And to achieve this, the young Quebec company uses cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques. Overview.
The story of NeuralDrive begins in 2017.
At that time, Marco Bonizzato had just completed his doctorate in electrical engineering in Switzerland, at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and arrived in Montreal to work in the laboratory of Marina Martinez, professor of neurosciences at the University of Montreal. .
We started working together on a project aimed at demonstrating that if we increased the activation of the motor cortex, we could improve the motor capacity of the subject after a spinal cord injury.
Marco Bonizzato, co-founder and CTO of NeuralDrive
As part of their work, they developed a neuromodulation system, a device implanted under the skull, in contact with the motor cortex, which restores communication between the brain and the affected muscles.
Aware of the commercial potential of their system, the two researchers decided to patent it. In December 2020, NeuralDrive was born.
Powered by artificial intelligence
Restoring the connection between the brain and the nervous system, as NeuralDrive wants to do, is not easy.
Now the company’s technology director, Marco Bonizzato explains that to stimulate the nervous system, you have to send electrical impulses. However, the task is complex since it involves choosing a large number of parameters.
“What voltage and what amperage to select? Which contact points to use? How often should pulses be sent? And when? How long should they be? “, he illustrates. And that’s where artificial intelligence comes in.
Thanks to the machine learning algorithms it is developing, the company wants to solve this problem and optimize the selection of parameters.
Technical and financial challenges
The development of NeuralDrive involves a number of challenges of a strategic, technological and financial nature.
For this reason, the company has been supported by many organizations in the Quebec innovation support ecosystem.
“We were supported by the Entrepreneurship Center of the University of Montreal, Centech, the Next AI accelerator, Mila and IVADO”, summarizes Marco Bonizzato. The goal: to develop a business and set up a business plan that has the potential to seek financing.
Because this is NeuralDrive’s next challenge.
So far, the company’s device has only been tested on animals. But she would like to do tests with humans. “For that, we will need private funding. It is however very difficult to find because the investor has to assume a significant risk and embark on the project for a relatively long period”, says Marco Bonizzato.
Until then, he and the NeuralDrive team will focus their energy on developing their system and the resulting intellectual property.
We are continuing our preclinical research to better demonstrate the functionalities of our system: we still have two years to go. So we’re not actively looking for funding, but that’s our longer-term goal.
Marco Bonizzato, CTO of NeuralDrive
Considering that the average time from funding to market for advanced medical devices like NeuralDrive is eight years, the company still has a lot of work ahead of it. But the technical director is not intimidated.
“We really want to maximize movement recovery for patients,” he says. We will therefore continue to develop our technology. »
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Artificial intelligence | NeuralDrive at the service of the nervous system
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