Plenary Speakers

Robert Gaunt

Robert Gaunt

University of Pittsburgh

Robert Gaunt is an Assistant Professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh. Robert earned a B.Eng. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Victoria (Victoria BC, Canada) and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Alberta (Edmonton AB, Canada) in 2008. He completed his postdoctoral training with Doug Weber at the University of Pittsburgh. His primary research interests are in the area of sensorimotor control and the development and translation of advanced neuroprosthetic devices. Active research topics include developing novel neural interfaces to regulate bladder function, developing prosthetic control systems for amputees that enable dexterous hand movements through implanted myoelectric interfaces, and developing bidirectional implantable brain machine interfaces to restore movement and sensation to people with upper-limb paralysis. He holds a number of patents and his work has been covered by numerous national and international media outlets.

Steven Laureys

Steven Laureys

University of Liège

“BCIs for consciousness assessment and communication in brain-injured patients”

Patients with locked-in syndrome (LIS) or disorders of consciousness (DOC) after coma suffer from severe motor disabilities and often visual problems hampering clinical assessments, which can lead to misdiagnosis of the level of consciousness and render the patient unable to communicate. Objective measures of consciousness can reduce the risk of misdiagnosis and could enable patients to communicate by voluntarily modulating their brain activity.  Different auditory, visual, tactile and motor imagery brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) paradigms are discussed, alongside their corresponding advantages and disadvantages. The widespread and daily clinical use of BCIs in LIS & DOC remains limited but perspectives on the improvements in commercially available “plug & play” BCIs specifically developed for DOC patients (e.g. MindBeagle by g.tec) are encouraging, and implementation during rehabilitation (e.g. recoveriX) shows promise. This lecture gives an overview of the challenges related to the (1) definition and bedside measures of consciousness; (2) scientific understanding of arousal and awareness; remaining medical challenging related to (3) diagnosis, (4) prognosis and (5) therapeutic management of LIS & DOC and concludes with (6) ethical considerations.

Bio

Neurologist and Clinical Professor at the Brain Center of the University Hospital of Liège, Research Director at the FNRS, Steven Laureys directs the Coma Science Group, which he created in 2014 at the GIGA Consciousness Center at the University of Liège. Most of his research is devoted to the study of alterations of consciousness in severely brain-injured patients (coma, vegetative state / non-responsive awakening, minimal state of consciousness, locked-in syndrome), as well as during anesthesia, sleep, meditation and in the hypnotic state. Steven Laureys is the author of more than 450 scientific articles, some of which have been published in the most prestigious journals, such as Science, Lancet, PNAS or Nature Review Neuroscience. In 2005, he published a book titled “The Boundaries of Consciousness” at Elsevier. A second book (“The Neurology of Consciousness”) was released in 2008. In 2015, he wrote the book “A so brilliant brain – the limit states of consciousness” and in 2019 “Meditation is good for the brain”, these general public books are both best sellers. Winner of numerous scientific prizes, including the 2017 Francqui Prize – the most prestigious Belgian scientific prize – Steven Laureys is one of the world’s leading specialists in the problem of altered states of consciousness

Paul Sajda

Paul Sajda

Columbia University

Paul Sajda is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Radiology (Physics) at Columbia University. He is also a Member of Columbia’s Data Science Institute and an Affiliate of the Zuckerman Institute of Mind, Brain and Behavior.  He received a BS in electrical engineering from MIT in 1989 and an MSE and PhD in bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania, in 1992 and 1994, respectively.   Professor Sajda is interested in what happens in our brains when we make a rapid decision and, conversely, what processes and representations in our brains drive our underlying preferences and choices, particularly when we are under time pressure. His work in understanding the basic principles of rapid decision-making in the human brain relies on measuring human subject behavior simultaneously with cognitive and physiological state. Important in his approach is his use of machine learning and data analytics to fuse these measurements for predicting behavior and infer brain responses to stimuli.  Professor Sajda applies the basic principles he uncovers to construct real-time brain-computer interfaces that are aimed at improving interactions between humans and machines.  He is also applying his methodology to understand how deficits in rapid decision-making may underlie and be diagnostic of many types of psychiatric diseases and mental illnesses. Professor Sajda is a co-founder of several neurotechnology companies and works closely with a range of scientists and engineers, including neuroscientists, psychologists, computer scientists, and clinicians. He is a fellow of the IEEE, AMBIE and AAAS and Chair of the IEEE Brain Initiative. He is also a recent recipient of the DoD’s Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship (VBFF).

Maryam M. Shanechi

Maryam M. Shanechi

University of Southern California

Maryam M. Shanechi is Assistant Professor and Viterbi Early Career Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California (USC). She is also a faculty member at the Neuroscience Graduate Program at USC. She received her B.A.Sc. degree in Engineering Science from the University of Toronto in 2004 and her S.M. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT in 2006 and 2011, respectively. She held postdoctoral positions at Harvard Medical School and at UC Berkeley from 2011-2013. She directs the Neural Systems Engineering Lab at USC. Her research is focused on developing closed-loop neurotechnologies through mathematical decoding and control of brain networks to treat neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders. She is the recipient of various awards including the NSF CAREER Award, the MIT Technology Review’s top 35 innovators under the age of 35 (TR35), the Popular Science Brilliant 10, an ARO multidisciplinary university research initiative (MURI) award, and the ONR Young investigator award.

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