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(MRC DTP) Closed loop brain-computer interfaces for neuromodulation in chronic pain

Project Description

Chronic pain is a major public health concern. Around 28 million people in the UK live with chronic pain and the healthcare costs exceed those of heart disease, cancer or diabetes. Current treatments for pain are mainly based on drugs, with potentially significant side effects and limited long-term efficacy.

There is an urgent need for new treatment approaches, and we are aiming to investigate whether “neuromodulation” can be used as a new therapeutic avenue. Neuromodulation is based on non-invasive measurements of the brain using “EEG”, and our recent findings have identified a brain signature of resilience to pain, related to increases in frontal EEG oscillations. We aim to stimulate the brain so that we can modulate these oscillations and affect the perception of pain. Importantly, our neuromodulation is based upon targeted visual and sound stimuli, and so it is easy to apply and is usable in one’s home independently.

Specifically, we aim to investigate whether a personalised “closed loop” arrangement where the stimulation parameters are decided on-the-fly based upon real-time analysis of the collected EEG data can out-perform an “open loop” arrangement where the stimulation parameters are fixed in advance and are the same for everyone. We do this by collecting EEG data on a smartphone, and analysing the data on the smartphone. An initial platform device is available (highlighted on the BBC, and the focus of this PhD will be to work with both engineering and clinical teams to enhance its functionality and to assess its performance when used with both healthy volunteers and patients.

On the engineering side we anticipate skills development and contributions in:
• Smartphone app design, including real-time low latency signal processing (for example real-time artefact removal and source localisation algorithms)
• EEG headset design, customising electrode arrays and caps using 3D printing to personalise and get the best possible fit and ease of set up for each person.
On the clinical side we anticipate skills development and contributions in:
• Involving users in the design and development of technology
• Pain responses before, during and after open/closed loop stimulation in lab-based clinical studies
• The out of the lab acceptability and usability of non-invasive EEG based neuromodulation.

This is a truly multi-disciplinary project which will require a wide range of practical skills to make and use complete systems. It will ideally suit applicants interested in brain-computer interfaces and making these for clinical applications.

Entry Requirements:
Applications are invited from UK/EU nationals only. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

Funding Notes

This project is to be funded under the MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the MRC DTP website View Website

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.

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