Date: April 10, 2007
Contacts: Maureen O'Leary, Director of Public Information
Michelle Strikowsky, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <>

Keck Futures Initiative Announces Grant Recipients; Over $1 Million Awarded for 16 Research Projects

WASHINGTON -- The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative announced today the recipients of its 2006 Futures grants, each in the amount of up to $75,000 to support interdisciplinary research on smart prosthetics. The 16 projects that were awarded funding represent a wide range of approaches to research on such assistive devices, which was the subject of the fourth Futures conference, "Smart Prosthetics: Exploring Assistive Devices for the Body and Mind," held last November in Irvine, Calif.  
Hunter Peckham, conference chairman and professor, Case Western Reserve University, said, "We received many creative proposals and believe we have selected the best research projects to pursue." 

These competitive seed grants aim to fill a critical gap for research on bold new ideas.  Major federal funding programs do not typically provide grants in areas that are considered risky or unusual. The Futures grants allow researchers to start developing a line of inquiry by recruiting students and postdoctoral fellows, purchasing equipment, and acquiring preliminary data – all of which can position the researchers to compete for larger awards from other public and private sources.

Established through a $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation in 2003, the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative is a 15-year effort to enhance communication among researchers, funding agencies, universities, and the general public – with the objective of stimulating interdisciplinary research at the most exciting frontiers. The National Academies and the W.M. Keck Foundation believe considerable scientific progress and social benefit will be achieved by providing a counterbalance to the tendency to isolate research within academic fields. The Futures Initiative is designed to enable researchers from different disciplines to focus on new questions and entirely new research, and to encourage better communication between scientists as well as between the scientific community and the public.

The Futures Initiative builds on three pillars of vital and sustained research: interdisciplinary encounters that counterbalance specialization and isolation; the identification and exploration of new research topics; and communication that bridges languages, cultures, habits of thought, and institutions. Toward these goals, the initiative incorporates three core activities each year: Futures conferences, Futures grants, and National Academies Communication Awards.

The award recipients and their grant research topics are:

William C. deGroat, James R. Roppolo, Bing Shen, and Changfeng Tai, University of Pittsburgh


Neuromodulation of the External Urethral Sphincter to Promote Voiding After Spinal Cord Injury - $75,000

Following spinal cord injury, in addition to loss of locomotion, normal bladder function is also lost. Although the bladder is able to contract, the external urethral sphincter (EUS) is hyperactive and rather than relaxing, as occurs during normal voiding, the EUS contracts and prevents voiding. These researchers propose to use microstimulation of specific areas of the spinal cord to produce EUS inhibition and thereby restore normal bladder emptying.


Michael F. Dorman, Arizona State University, Tempe

Phillip M. Gilley, University of Colorado, Boulder

Brain Activity in Response to Sound: Cross-Validation of Source Localization Using Three Imaging Techniques - $50,000

These researchers aim to compare the cortical localization of brain responses to speech using invasive and noninvasive techniques. The results of these comparisons will develop clinically useful, noninvasive techniques for studying brain function in children who wear a neural prosthesis for hearing.


Jennifer Ellisseff, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

Hugh Herr, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge

Novel Adhesive for the Prosthesis-Limb Interface - $75,000

These researchers are exploring a biomedical problem, the interface between prostheses and the body. From long-term integration between metal and skin or bone to short-term challenges such as avoiding slippage and resulting sores, achieving appropriate prosthesis integration is critical for optimal function.


William J. Foster, University of Houston

Paul A. Janmey, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Retinal Prosthetics: The Effect of the Elastic Modulus of the Extracellular Matrix on the Development of Differentiation of Specialized Neurons in the Retina - $75,000

How do the cells become organized in the retina and brain?  These researcher propose to utilize techniques from polymer chemistry, physics, and developmental biology to evaluate the effect of the elastic modulus or "softness" of the surrounding material on the development of retinal stem cells and organization of the retina.


Joseph T. Francis, State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York City

Karen Moxon, Drexel University, Philadelphia

Jose M. Carmena, University of California, Berkeley

Comparing and Contrasting Electrophysiological Properties of and Biological Response to Chronically Implanted Electrode Arrays - $75,000

These researchers aim is to replace the sense of touch with direct electrical stimulation to the sensory thalamus while testing a new electrode array with multiple contacts along each shaft, and comparing its recording ability and biocompatibility with the standard micro-wire array as well as the Cyberkinetics array.


Robert C. Froemke, University of California, San Francisco

Phillip Levis, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.

A Wireless Device for Studying the Neural Circuitry of Social Behavior - $25,000

Social behaviors such as maternal care are important functions of the brain. However, because of technical limitations, little is known about the neural circuitry of social interactions.  These researchers propose to improve the design of a smart prosthetic brain stimulator, and test it by trying to enhance maternal behavior.


R. Brent Gillespie, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, University of Maryland, College Park

Marcia K. O'Malley, Rice University, Houston

Patricia A. Shewokis, Drexel University, Philadelphia

Feedback Control for Smart Prosthetics: An Integrated Electrophysiological and Near-Infrared Methodology - $75,000

This project will produce insight into the neural mechanisms governing adaptation to sensory feedback from a prosthesis. The researchers will track brain activity while subjects perform simple object lifting tasks with a prosthesis that selectively provides tendon vibration (inducing joint motion percepts) and force feedback (unloading muscles in the upper arm).



Elias Greenbaum, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Mark S. Humayun, University of Southern California - Keck School of Medicine / The Doheny Institute, Los Angeles

Metabolic Prosthesis - $75,000

Ischemia is a condition in which blood flow and oxygen is restricted in part of the body.  Diabetic retinopathy is an example of an ischemic disease.  These researchers propose to develop a metabolic retinal prosthesis to deliver oxygen to the ischemic retina.


Warren M. Grill, Duke University, Durham, N.C.

David C. Martin, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

In Situ Polymerized Interfaces for Peripheral Nerve Recording and Stimulation - $75,000

This project will to determine the feasibility of polymer (rubber) electrodes to record electrical signals from and deliver electrical stimulation to peripheral nerves.  The system to be used includes liquid electrodes that harden after injection into the body to enable minimally invasive electrical interfaces with peripheral nerves for applications in prosthetic devices.


Sarah C. Heilshorn, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.

A Novel Biomaterial That Can Be Remodeled by the Nervous System - $75,000

The goal of this research is to develop a new biomaterial that can be used to promote regeneration of the central nervous system.  Unlike traditional biomaterials, which biodegrade over time in an uncontrollable manner, this new biomaterial will be able to be remodeled and degraded directly by the regenerating nerves.


Joerg Lahann, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Jennifer Ellisseff, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

Interfacing Embryonic Stem Cells With Synthetic Prosthesis - $75,000

Embryonic stem cells hold great promise in regenerative medicine and bio-prostheses.  This will require completely defined cellular microenvironments.  Based on novel biointerface technology, these researchers will create a 3D scaffold that supports undifferentiated growth of human embryonic stem cells and design biointerfaces that can regulate the cells differentiation into neurons.


Cato T. Laurencin, University of Virginia, Charlottesville

Challa S.S.R. Kumar, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge

Aparna Gupta, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.

Lakshmi S. Nair, University of Virginia, Charlottesville

Universal Smart Coatings for Prosthetics - $75,000

Infection is a dangerous complication after surgery to place a prosthesis. These researchers plan to develop a method to make the prosthesis itself a controlled drug delivery system. By means of an alternating magnetic field, the controlled release of an antibiotic will be regulated to turn on and off as needed.


Gerald E. Loeb, University of Southern California, Los Angeles

Biomimetic Tactile Sensors and Grip Control Strategies - $75,000

Prosthetic and robotic hands need robust touch sensors and clever control strategies to help them interact with objects.  This project will develop a new class of sensors that draws inspiration from the deformable shapes of real finger pads, nail beds, etc., and the dexterous hand behaviors that have been studied in human subjects.


Steve M. Potter, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

Jose M. Carmena, University of California, Berkeley

Testbed for Developing Direct Cortical Feedback of Proprioception for Smart Limb Prostheses - $75,000

These researchers will explore and solve problems in delivering artificial proprioception to improve the usefulness of limb prostheses. It is a synergy of in vitro and in vivo approaches, involving multielectrode array stimulation and recording of the cortex and cultured cortical tissue.


Jeffrey Schwartz, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.

Treena Livingston Arinzeh, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark

Jennifer Ellisseff, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

Boyd M. Evans III, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Sarah C. Heilshorn, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.

Joerg Lahann, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Roger J. Narayan, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Vilupanur A. Ravi, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Judith Stein, GE Global Research, Niskayuna, N.Y.

Transduction of Metabolic to Electric Energy Through Vectorial Cell Growth - $75,000

Microprocessor-based prostheses might benefit from in situ power generated by transduction of normal metabolic processes.  These researchers propose to develop a program to create arrays of myoblast-like cells on a scaffold using the electric eel as a guide; cells would develop an electrical potential through normal metabolic processes and this potential would be discharged through an external circuit.


The final grant will help sponsor a workshop on Scientific and Translational Issues in Sensorimotor Research that will bring together neuroscientists working on the neural basis of sensorimotor control, investigators developing cortical neuroprosthetics, and neurologists specializing in somatosensory disorders to identify scientific gaps and opportunities common to these research communities and to discuss strategies for developing close-looped sensorimotor integrated smart prosthetics. 


For more information, visit <> or contact Marty Perreault at 949-387-5783.