The San Raffaele Neurotech Hub Opening

The San Raffaele Neurotech Hub Opening

Publication date: 21-03-2024

Updated on: 21-03-2024

Topic: Research

Estimated reading time: 1 min

The center will explore and apply a new noninvasive brain-machine interface (nBMI) approach in the treatment of certain neurological disorders through a partnership with the Nicolelis Institute for Advanced Brain Studies (l’Istituto Nicolelis per gli Studi Avanzati sul Cervello).

San Raffaele Hospital and Vita-Salute San Raffaele University announce the collaboration with The Nicolelis Institute for Advanced Brain Studies of the Brazilian Alberto Santos Dumont Association for Research Support (AASDAP), to create the new San Raffaele Neurotech Hub. The result of 2 years of work, the new San Raffaele Neurotech Hub will be the first initiative of such kind in Europe, focused on the large-scale implementation of modern neurotechnologies and neurorehabilitation protocols, based on the usage of a new non-invasive brain-machine interface (nBMI) approach.

Brain-machine interfaces

This nBMI will serve as the basis for multiple protocols and foundation for neurorehabilitation therapies, specifically for patients with neurological diseases, such as spinal cord injury, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and stroke.

It is estimated that more than 1 billion people worldwide suffer from a brain disorder of some kind, including neurological and psychiatric diseases. By 2030, the global cost of treatment of such patients could approach about $6 trillion. Therefore, new safe, clinically efficient, and affordable therapies, alongside neurorehabilitation technologies, will be required to meet the long-term needs of these patients.

Over the past 20 years, we’ve got evidences that it is possible to smoothly connect the brain to robotic, electronic, or virtual devices, through brain-machine interfaces, and this has emerged as a powerful new therapeutic and neurorehabilitation approach to address this important global health challenge. Assessing and exploiting the clinical potential of nBMIs will be the main mission of the new San Raffaele Neurotech Hub.

The neurorehabilitation protocols that will be used

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

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

Originally developed for the demonstration of the first brain-controlled lower limb exoskeleton, which enabled a Brazilian paraplegic patient to perform the kickoff of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the neurorehabilitation protocols that will be implemented in the Neurorehabilitation Center of the San Raffaele Neurotech Hub are all based on the combination of nBMIs, virtual reality, robotics, and, more recently, noninvasive neuromodulating techniques (Donati et al, 2016Shokur et al, 2018Selfslagh et 2019Nicolelis et al 2022).

An important partnership

"We are excited to launch this program to help patients with neurological disorders and expand our research on innovative rehabilitation techniques that use new knowledge and protocols to help the ones in need and train the next generation of specialists," said Dr. Alan Rudolph, about this clinical and scientific collaboration, which is certainly unique in the international scenario.

Dr. Miguel Nicolelis adds: "This collaboration with one of the most prestigious hospitals in the world is a dream come true. Our partnership will allow patients suffering from some devastating brain diseases to access cutting-edge, safe, affordable and effective technologies based on brain-machine interfaces (BMIs). I am sure my good 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 next few years and prove that noninvasive BMIs, combined with other modern technologies and data tools, will become a main approach in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric diseases in the near future."

Professor Enrico Gherlone, Chancellor of the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, notes: "We are very glad to announce the start of the strategic Neurotech Hub project, which is the result of the partnership we established with Professor Nicolelis and his team. After the implementation of a two-year master plan, the Neurotech Hub is ready to start entering the operational phase, which will ensure that in the coming years we will be able to pursue our strategic goal: neurotechnologies as a new and compulsory advanced medicine with potential use in humans to improve our health, both motor and cognitive, in both neurological and psychiatric disorders. All this undoubtedly represents a critically important opportunity for our interns as well, giving them the chance to deal with a cutting-edge technology that is unique in Europe."

Engineer Marco Centenari, CEO of San Raffaele Hospital, comments: "The new Neurotech Hub represents one of the main strategic projects of our Institute. The collaboration with Professor Nicolelis is a strong proof of our willingness to support a long-term effort with a perspective of developing increasingly translational medicine.

The team of Nicolelis will be joined by a team of excellent neurologists from our hospital led by Professor Massimo Filippi. Professor Filippi has internationally recognized experience in testing new therapies in neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as in developing new biomarkers to more effectively prevent and treat these diseases. We are convinced that in the near future we can contribute to further advance such a cross-disciplinary field as supporting neurotechnological development, a valuable asset for healthier neuroaging."

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