Neurorehabilitation: launche new San Raffaele Neurotech Hub in partnership with Nicolelis Institute

The San Raffaele Neurotech Hub, created in partnership with the Nicolelis Institute for Advanced Brain Studies, will focus on the new approach of non-invasive brain-machine interface (nBMI) in the treatment of certain neurological pathologies.

The IRCCS Ospedale San Raffaele and the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University announce the start of a partnership with the Nicolelis Institute for Advanced Brain Studies of the Brazilian Alberto Santos Dumont Association for Research Support (AASDAP), for the creation of the new San Raffaele Neurotech Hub. It is the result of 2 years of work, and the new Hub will be the first initiative of its kind in Europe. It will focus on the large-scale implementation of modern neurotechnologies and neurorobotic protocols, based on the use of a new and generic non-invasive brain-machine interface approach (nBMI).

Brain-machine interfaces for neurorehabilitation therapies

This nBMI (non-invasive brain-machine interface) will be the basis for multiple protocols and the foundation for neurorehabilitation therapies aimed at patients with neurological disorders, such as spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and strokes.

Over the past 20 years, evidence has shown that it is possible to seamlessly connect the brain to robotic, electronic, or virtual devices through brain-machine interfaces (BMIs). This possibility emerges as a new therapeutic and neurorehabilitation approach. Assessing and harnessing the clinical potential of nBMIs will be the main mission of the new San Raffaele Neurotech Hub.

The protocols used by the San Raffaele Neurotech Hub

The Hub will kick off by establishing a Neurorehabilitation Center, with the main mission of providing patients from all over Europe with full access to modern neurorehabilitation protocols and neurotechnologies originally developed by a multidisciplinary Brazilian research team, led by Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist and Emeritus Professor at the Duke University Medical Center in the United States.

In the late 1990s, together with John Chapin, Nicolelis invented a new neurophysiological approach, defined as brain-machine interfaces (BMIs). Over the past 25 years, Nicolelis and his research groups in the United States and Brazil have developed multiple clinical applications based on different BMI architectures, combined with various tools derived from the fields of virtual reality and robotics. In addition to being the author of the Master Plan of the new hub project, together with Rudolph, Nicolelis will be a visiting professor at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University and co-director of this Italo-Brazilian collaboration.

Originally, they were developed to demonstrate the first brain-controlled lower limb exoskeleton, which allowed a Brazilian paraplegic patient to perform the kickoff of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Now, neurorehabilitation protocols will be implemented in the Neurorehabilitation Center of the San Raffaele Neurotech Hub. Furthermore, they are all based on the combination of nBMIs, virtual reality, robotics, and, more recently, non-invasive neuromodulation techniques.

San Raffaele Neurotech Hub - Nicolelis Institute: Important Partnership for Neurorehabilitation

Regarding this clinical and scientific collaboration, Rudolph states, “We are excited to launch this program to assist patients with neurological conditions and expand our research on innovative rehabilitation techniques that utilize new knowledge and protocols to help those in need and train the next generation of specialists.”

Nicolelis adds, “This collaboration with one of the world’s most prestigious hospitals is a dream come true. Our partnership will allow patients with some devastating brain conditions to access cutting-edge, safe, accessible, and effective technologies based on brain-machine interfaces (BMIs). I am sure that my dear friend John Chapin, with whom I invented this technology, would be proud of this announcement. We hope to reach a large number of patients in the coming years and demonstrate conclusively that non-invasive BMIs, combined with other modern technologies and data tools, will become a primary approach in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric diseases in the near future.”

We are very pleased to announce the start of the strategic Neurotech Hub project, which is the result of the partnership we have formed with Nicolelis and his team,” comments Enrico Gherlone, Rector of Vita-Salute San Raffaele University. “After implementing a two-year master plan, the Neurotech Hub is ready to begin the operational phase, which will ensure that we can pursue our strategic vision in the coming years: neurotechnologies as a new and mandatory advanced medicine that already shows potential use in humans to improve our health, both motor and cognitive, as well as in neurological and psychiatric disorders. This undoubtedly represents a crucial opportunity for our trainees as well, giving them the chance to engage with cutting-edge technology, unique in Europe.”

Marco Centenari, Chief Executive Officer of IRCCS Ospedale San Raffaele, adds: “The new Neurotech Hub represents one of the main strategic projects of our Institute. The collaboration with Professor Nicolelis is tangible evidence of our commitment to supporting a long-term effort aimed at developing increasingly translational medicine.

Nicolelis’s group will be supported by a team of excellent neurologists from our hospital led by Professor Massimo Filippi, who has internationally recognized expertise in testing new therapies for neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as in developing new biomarkers to prevent and treat such diseases more effectively. We are convinced that in the near future we will be able to further advance a transdisciplinary field like that which supports neurotechnological development, a valuable aid for healthier brain aging.