Department of Biomedical Engineering
Laboratory for Bionic Integration
In our research, we study the sensory nervous system with a focus on the mechanics of brain organization and neuroplasticity. Our findings allow us to build prosthetic devices with sensory integration, giving amputees a sense of touch through their prosthetic limb.
The lab works with patients who have undergone specific surgeries to reintegrate the nerves that once supplied sensation to the amputated limb back into the skin of the residual limb. This allows us to map sensations from an amputee’s missing limb in their residual limb, and pair these areas with appropriate mechanisms to mimic the sense of touch.
Our work also focuses on establishing an understanding of how sensory channels are organized and integrated to establish a cognitive sense of self, embodiment, and authorship. We use our understanding of these sensory and cognitive pathways to drive cognitive engagement with artificial limbs for amputees.
Neural-Machine Interface and Prosthetics.
A neural-machine-interface is a machine, such as a bionic limb, that has a connection with the wearer’s brain—in this case, the user’s limb nerves. Our prosthetics utilize a neural-machine interface that surgically reconnects amputated nerves to new muscle and skin sites. The nerves of these amputees are not physically connected to the machine; instead, the bionic prosthetic picks up electrical signals from the reinnervated muscles and small robots push and vibrate against the user’s skin containing the reintegrated nerves.
When an amputee thinks about moving their bionic limb, nerve impulses travel from their brain to the reintegrated nerve endings in their muscles. The mechanical components of the muscles generate electricity when they contract which acts like a biological amplifier; intensifying the nerve impulses so that they control the actions of the prosthetic.
The prosthetic is bidirectional, meaning that it also receives information and relays it back to the nerves. Tactors, or touch robots, are integrated into the limb. These robots send pressure and vibrations through the skin to communicate with their reintegrated nerves which provides information about the prosthetic limb to the user’s brain. The information includes the prosthetic’s movement in space, the shape of the hand’s grip, and the feel of objects that the hand is touching.
Authorship and Embodiment.
We also study embodiment and authorship, and use these concepts to engineer prosthetics that integrate physically and cognitively with the user.
Embodiment is the sense that one occupies their body, and that the parts of one’s body belong to them. In our research, our amputees feel that their prosthetic limb is a naturally integrated part of their body because they feel that they have authorship over it, and because they receive sensory feedback from the limb and hand.
Authorship is the feeling that you are in control of your actions. The amputees in our research feel that they cause their prosthetic limbs to move because they are provided with a sense of movement that matches to their intended movements.
The experience both embodiment and authorship provide the amputees with a clear feeling that their prosthetic limb is an integrated part of their own body.
- Sensory nervous system: The nerves responsible for gathering information from your senses
- Neuroplasticity: The ability of the brain to reorganize
- Embodiment: The feeling that the parts of your body belong to you
- Authorship: The feeling that you are in control of your body’s actions
- Cognitive engagement: Amputees perceive that their prosthetic limb is under their control, and a part of their body
The Laboratory for Bionic Integration Immersion in Science Art Internship
Information and Application Guidelines
The Laboratory for Bionic Integration is accepting applications for the 2017 Immersion in Science Art Internship. This paid internship is an opportunity for current undergraduate seniors and graduate students interested in cross-disciplinary careers in the arts and science.
The Immersion in Science Art Intern will contribute creative input to the Laboratory of Integration’s research, while strengthening their own scientific and artistic practices. They will have the opportunity to contribute to other summer interns’ research, and the Laboratory for Bionic Integration’s current projects. The course of the Immersion in Science Art Internship will be guided by the appointed intern’s scientific and artistic pursuits.
2017 Internship Calendar
- Applications accepted: March 27-April 14
- Interview invitation notification: Week of April 17
- Interviews: April 20-24
- Selection notification: April 30
- Internship: May-August 2017, precise dates TBA
Undergraduate Immersion in Science Art Internship candidates must be in their final semester of undergraduate studies in the spring of 2017. They must be seeking an art (fine art, music, or literature) major with a minor in the sciences (biology, chemistry, engineering, etc.), or a science major with a minor in the arts. Applicants may also be dual-majors in the arts and sciences. Medical illustration and scientific writing students are eligible and encouraged to apply.
Graduate and professional student candidates must be pursuing an advanced degree in the arts (fine art, music, or literature) or sciences (physiology, neuroscience, engineering, etc.), with formal training in the other discipline in the form of an undergraduate major or minor. Medical illustration students and scientific writing students are eligible and encouraged to apply.
The internship application consists of:
- Letter of Intent
Applicants must include a letter of intent that outlines their interest in the Laboratory for Bionic Integration Immersion in Science Art Internship. This document must be submitted as a PDF.
- Resume or CV
Include a current resume or CV. The document must include a valid email address that is checked regularly, as all communications regarding the internship will be made via email. The resume or CV must be submitted as a PDF.
- Letter of Recommendation
Include a letter of recommendation from an instructor or PI who can write in support your cross-disciplinary career interests. The letter must be on institutional letterhead and signed, and submitted as a PDF.
A transcript from your current studies is required. If you are a graduate student, please submit a transcript from your undergraduate studies as well. Transcripts must include course names, date taken, and grade earned. You may submit an unofficial transcript provided it meets these criteria. If you are an undergraduate senior from the Cleveland Institute of Art, your transcript must include letter grades from science courses taken at Case Western Reserve University or elsewhere. Transcripts must be submitted as PDFs.
Portfolio requirements vary depending on your artistic pursuits. For specific requirements, please see below:
- Fine Arts Portfolio
Submit your portfolio as a slideshow saved as a PDF. A single work may not fulfill two or more criteria. All subjects must be referenced from life whenever possible. For medical and scientific illustration majors submitting topics such as microbiology and chemistry, work must be referenced from the most current accepted crystallography, spectra, or microscopy available.
Your portfolio must include the following:
- Three gestural figure drawings (may be presented on the same slide)
- One finished figure drawing or portrait of a human subject
- Two works that depict a procedure or have a narrative
- One work demonstrating ability to follow strict guidelines (i.e., a journal’s figure guidelines, or matching a magazine’s style)
- One work demonstrating ability to communicate complex concept in metaphor
Include a separate table of contents as a separate PDF. Contents must list title of work, year completed, media, intended audience, and a brief description of the work and how it relates to artist’s scientific pursuits. If submitting a medical illustration, instead of relating the work to your scientific studies, describe the scientific concept depicted and how it was researched and referenced.
- Literature/Writing Portfolio
Submit your portfolio as a single PDF. A single work may not fulfill two or more criteria.
Your portfolio must include the following:
- One critical analysis of a piece of writing
- Two pieces most representative of your genera of writing (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, scientific communication, poetry, etc.)
Include a table of contents. Contents must list title of each work, year completed, writing prompt (if any), intended audience, and a brief explanation of how each work relates to your scientific pursuits. If submitting a piece of scientific communications writing, instead of relating the work to your scientific studies, describe the scientific concept written about and how it was researched.
- Music Portfolio
Submit your portfolio as .mp3 or .mp4 files. A single work may not fulfill two or more criteria.
Your portfolio must include the following:
- Three audio or audiovisual recordings of musical performances, not to exceed thirty minutes of playback time
Include a table of contents submitted as a PDF. Contents must list title of each performance, year performed, instrument(s), and a brief explanation of how each work relates to your scientific pursuits.
To apply, please send your application materials via email to Madeline Newcomb at email@example.com by 5:00pm EST on Friday, April 14, 2017. You must use the email subject line Immersion in Science Art Internship Application.
Dylan Beckler joined the Laboratory for Bionic Integration in 2016 as a full-time Research Engineer. Dylan earned his Bachelors of Science in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Akron in 2015. His area of research is focused on developing functional tests for advanced prosthetic limbs using Optimal Foraging Theory approaches.
Kaleigh Farrell, BA
Kaleigh Farrell joined the Marasco lab in 2015 as a research coordinator. She is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.
Kaleigh’s focus is on the regulatory aspects of research coordination. She functions as our liaison with the IRB and our sponsors’ regulatory agencies.
Rafael Granja-Vázquez MD
Rafael Granja-Vazquez, holds a Medical Doctor degree from the Autonomous University of Guadalajara Medical School. He also received General Surgery training in Monterrey, Mexico and then completed research fellowships in experimental nerve repair, neural interfacing, bioelectronic medicine and neuropathic pain prevention at the University of Texas Dallas under the mentorship of Mario Romero-Ortega Ph.D.
He is highly empathic and self-motivated towards contributing in the Neuro-Engineering research field as he once was a radial nerve injury patient. As a physician, he founded and led his own Health care startup in Mexico until its successful acquisition in 2011. He is co-founder and Medical Advisor of NerveSolutions, a biotech company that seeks to provide synthetic nerves and medical devices for nerve repair and neuropathic pain prevention following nerve injury. He is co-inventor of a patent on nerve regeneration inhibition and neuropathic pain prevention modality for amputees (USPO #61/766,368).
He joined our lab in the summer of 2015 as a Research Associate Staff.
Paul D. Marasco, PhD
Dr. Marasco is a neuroscientist (sensory neurophysiology) who focuses on applied cognitive/perceptual systems integration within a biomedical engineering context. He is an Associate Staff Scientist in the Lerner Research Institute Department of Biomedical Engineering at Cleveland Clinic and a Principal Investigator in the Advanced Platform Technology Center of Excellence at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he is also the Director of Amputee Research for the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He heads the Laboratory for Bionic Integration where neural-machine-interfaces are used to provide touch and movement sensation to prosthetic limbs so that individuals with amputation feel like the devices are a part of their body. Dr. Marasco leads a number of multi-institution and international projects funded across the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA), the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP), and the Veterans Administration (VA).
In addition to investigating how to use perception and cognition to make prosthetics feel, Dr. Marasco and his teams are also working to develop new validated functional tests for advanced prosthetic systems to measure the tangible benefit of improved sensation on the use of prosthetic devices and help communicate the outcomes to clinicians and payers. They are providing joint movement sensations to amputees without neural-machine-interfaces so that they can move and walk better, and also developing advanced composite approaches to make silicone socket liners more comfortable. Through the VA, Dr. Marasco was recently awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, which is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers in the Federal Services.
Madeline D. Newcomb, BFA
Madeline is a research assistant, and is the creative lead for the lab. She graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Biomedical Art, and completed pre-medical studies at Case Western Reserve University. She is a professional member of the Association of Medical Illustrators. Madeline joined the Marasco Lab in 2016.
Beth Orzell, BS
Biography coming soon
Hala Osman, MS
Hala earned her MS in textile engineering from the Technische Universität Dresden in 2003, focusing her work on technical textiles applications and materials testing. She joined Kent State University in 2009 as adjunct faculty at the college of applied engineering, sustainability and technology, and received her second MS in quality systems and reliability engineering in 2011. Currently, she is continuing her education at Cleveland State University in pursuit of a doctorate degree in applied biomedical engineering, with an interest in cognitive embodiment, sensory neuropathy, and metabolic vascular disruption. She has worked in the Marasco Bionic Integration Laboratory since 2014.
Courtney Shell, PhD
Courtney obtained a B.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering from Texas A&M University in 2010 and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012 and 2016, respectively. For her doctoral work, she investigated how lower-limb amputee mobility is affected by prosthetic foot properties and how a prosthetic foot could be adjusted during walking to improve stability on an uneven surface. Courtney joined the lab in 2016 as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and is exploring how restoration of sensory perception in amputees improves performance and overall user experience with prostheses.
Zachary earned his MS in biomedical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2003. While there, his graduate work focused on bioelectronics.
In 2005 he joined Dr. John Stahl's lab at the Cleveland VA Medical Center's Ocular Motility Laboratory studying eye-head coordination and cerebellar gaze control disorders in humans and mice.
In 2013 he joined Dr. Marasco as a research engineer studying sensory feedback and integration in prosthetic limbs, with a focus on developing functional metrics of limb performance, as well as physically implementing the various technologies and approaches used by the lab.