Gaurav Sharma’s work has helped a paralyzed patient regain control of his hand and enabled delivery of drugs across the blood-brain barrier. As the Lead Investigator and Senior Research Scientist on the Battelle Medical Devices and Neuromodulation team, he is applying advanced engineering to overcome problems in the human body and brain.
Since joining Battelle in 2011, Gaurav has served as the technical lead or lead investigator on a number of cutting-edge projects involving peripheral nerve stimulation, spinal cord stimulation and brain-computer interfaces. He was also the lead investigator for the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) engineering program, a Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)-funded project aimed at developing nanotechnology-based strategies for delivery of drugs to the brain.
For the last six years, he has devoted most of his time to Battelle NeuroLife™, a groundbreaking neural bridging technology for patients with spinal cord injuries. The system consists of a chip implanted in the motor cortex to pick up brain signals, a sophisticated software program for interpretation of the signals, and a specialized sleeve that directly stimulates the muscles to evoke specific movements in the wrist, hand and fingers. This bypasses the damaged portion of the spinal cord to allow paralyzed patients consciously control their hand movements. Battelle and The Ohio State University (OSU) have successfully demonstrated NeuroLife with one patient and are continuing the clinical study with an additional patient to further refine the technology.
Gaurav was part of the original NeuroLife team and is now the Principal Investigator of the project, leading a team of 20 researchers. In addition to overseeing continued clinical trial work and technology refinement, he is now focused on developing further applications of the technology. Beyond spinal cord injury, he sees potential benefits for stroke and traumatic brain injury patients and other types of sensory-motor rehabilitation. “NeuroLife, in essence, is a technology platform. The core technologies developed for NeuroLife can be adapted for use in brain health monitoring, rehabilitation or as assistive devices for other patient populations,” he explains. “My team is working to expand the potential of this technology to help as many people as possible.”
The NeuroLife project has given him a strong appreciation for the importance of keeping the patient perspective at the center of medical device development. During the clinical study, the NeuroLife team worked very closely with Ian Burkhart, the first recipient of the technology. Gaurav says that Ian’s input and active participation was essential to the success of the project. He believes that this “patients as partners
” development approach will be invaluable as the industry develops more complex assistive and rehabilitative neurotechnology devices.
Gaurav’s work is informed by his background in biomedical and mechanical engineering. He holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern University, an M.S. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Rutgers University and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the National Institute of Technology in Surathkal, India. His doctoral work was focused on the development of protein-based bio-nano sensors. In his postdoctoral work at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, he expanded on this work to develop nanotechnology-based strategies for engineering the tumor microenvironment as a therapeutic strategy against breast cancer. His background in engineering, advanced materials and biology has given him a cross-disciplinary perspective that has been invaluable in solving difficult challenges in medical device design.
Moving into the future, Gaurav is excited by the potential of neurotechnology and bioelectric medicine to treat a wide range of diseases. “
The brain truly is the final frontier,” he says. “There is still so little known about how the brain functions. There is huge potential to tap into that unknown and make advancements that really improve patient’s outcomes and quality of life.”
He looks forward to continuing his work on NeuroLife and taking on additional challenges in medical device design. “Every day is a new challenge and a new learning opportunity. That is what drives me.”