Princeton University

School of Engineering & Applied Science

Reflections on Getting From Whiteboard to White Matter; Merging Technology, Science and Translational Principals for the Investigation of Neurological Disease

Timothy Denison, PhD
Computer Science 104
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm


The burden of neurological disease represents a large unmet need with significant societal and economic impact. While promising in-roads for treatment have been made for some conditions, the application of medical technology to address the broader space neurological disorders is limited by the lack of understanding of the natural pathophysiology, and, in particular, the response of a diseased neural circuit to existing and potential treatments. Technologists are helping to address this issue by creating translational research tools for neuroscientists, permitting the chronic probing of diseased circuits. Working together, the hope is that clinicians, scientists and engineers can then build up therapeutic concepts from scientific and engineering first principles. For all parties, a key constraint is to balance the scientific goals against the risks and benefits of the system.

This lecture describes the embodiment of such a strategy within the context of implantable medical devices. Working within the inherent constraints of device design in the neurotechnology space, we developed a strategy of embedding “scientific payloads” of physiological instrumentation into existing device architectures. This architecture allows for scientific investigation to be bootstrapped onto predicate therapy delivery systems, helping to lower significant barriers to access of the diseased human nervous system for research that might enable future advancements. To help make the key concepts more concrete, we will illustrate our methodology with examples drawn from both translated systems, as well as research tools being deployed today to explore a variety of diseases of the central nervous system. Our goal is to help catalyze an ecosystem of translational research merging engineering design methods with basic neuroscience to explore the next generation of therapies to treat neurological disorders.


Tim Denison is a Technical Fellow at Medtronic and Director of Core Technology in the Neuromodulation division, where he helps oversee the design of next generation neural interface and algorithm technologies for the treatment of chronic neurological disease. In 2012, he was awarded membership to the Bakken Society, Medtronic’s highest technical and scientific honor. Tim received an A.B. in Physics from The University of Chicago, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from MIT. Tim’s extracurricular pursuits include serving as an adjunct assistant professor at Brown University, teaching “smart” medical sensor design short courses at the TU Delft, and chairing the IEEE EMBS society Twin Cities chapter. He serves as an assistant editor for the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems and the editorial board of the Journal of Neural Engineering.