Patrick Ganzer, Ph.D., is advancing medicine at the interface between the nervous system and technology. His work is helping patients recovering from spinal cord injuries, stroke and other nervous system disorders regain lost function and independence.
Patrick joined Battelle in May of 2017 as a Neurotechnology Research Scientist. He is working on the cutting edge of bioelectric medicine, neural stimulation, neural signal processing and brain/machine interface technologies.
Currently, much of his time is devoted to extending the applications for Battelle NeuroLife™, an innovative technology that bypasses the damaged portion of the spinal cord to give patients who have been paralyzed by spinal cord injuries conscious control over their limbs. NeuroLife consists of a chip implanted in the motor cortex that picks up brain signals, signal processing software that interprets these brain signals and sends them to a special sleeve that stimulates the muscles in the forearm to activate movement in the hand and wrist,. Results of an initial 2-year clinical trial with a single participant, Ian Burkhart, were published in Nature in 2016. Since then, the NeuroLife team has continued improving the technology.
Since joining Battelle, Patrick has been part of the team working to refine the NeuroLife technology. Part of his time is spent working with our participant, who is an active partner in the research being conducted, to develop new experiments and test novel capabilities. Currently, our participant can use NeuroLife in the lab to translate his intentions into movements that allow him to play Guitar Hero, pick up objects and perform other simple tasks. Patrick and the NeuroLife team are working on experiments that would close a critical sensory feedback loop, artificially boosting sensory signals from our participant’s hand to improve his motor function. Using the same algorithms that currently decode movement-related brain signals, they hope to decode sensory signals from his skin that would provide information about what area of the hand is being touched and how much pressure is being applied. This would allow the participant to more effectively adjust his movements in response to environmental feedback such as the weight of a mug he is trying to pick up. While much work remains to be done in this area, initial experiments have been promising.
Patrick is also looking for new applications for the core technologies that make up the NeuroLife system. Beyond spinal cord injuries, NeuroLife could potentially be used for stroke rehabilitation or as an assistive or rehabilitative device for a broad range of nervous system disorders.
Beyond NeuroLife, Patrick devotes much of his time to bioelectronic medicine. This growing frontier of medicine uses electrical stimulation of the nervous system to treat a variety of disease states and has been heralded as a promising alternative to drug therapies. Patrick’s team is looking at biomarkers that indicate when a nerve has been stimulated and comparing invasive and non-invasive methods of bioelectric stimulation. The ultimate goal is to develop non-invasive ways to regulate a body system and potentially restore function in a diseased state. Bioelectronic medicine has already been applied to treat conditions such as arthritis, seizures, tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease and many other disorders. Finding non-invasive ways of stimulating nerves would open up these treatments to more patients and make bioelectronic medicine a viable alternative for a broader range of conditions.
“Bioelectronic medicine has the potential to help people with a wide variety of disorders,” Patrick says. “We are looking for applications that are not just assistive, but actually restorative—helping to rewire the nervous system for people currently struggling with chronic diseases.”
The progress Patrick and his team have made in bioelectronic medicine is built around the same expertise in signal processing and machine learning that lies behind NeuroLife. “Machine learning, in principle, allows us to analyze and decode all kinds of complex signals,” he explains. “Our hope is to eventually be able to decode complex spontaneous disease events for on-demand triggering of stimulation. This approach is in many ways similar to what we utilize with our NeuroLife research partner. Instead of decoding movement intention from the brain to trigger muscle stimulation, we hope to soon decode an organ malfunction for activating therapeutic nerve stimulation and molecule release in the body. In other words, event-triggered bioelectronic medicine fueled by advanced pattern recognition.”
Patrick’s work at Battelle builds on several years of previous research in spinal cord injury, brain mapping and nervous system stimulation. Prior to joining Battelle, he worked as a Research and Development Consultant at Nexeon MedSystems, Inc., contributing to the development of new bioelectronic therapies. He completed his post-doctoral research at The University of Texas–Dallas, where his research focused on using vagus nerve stimulation to enhance recovery after a spinal cord injury, stroke or peripheral nerve injury. He holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering and Science from Drexel University and a B.S. in Neuroscience & Psychology from King’s College. He has contributed to numerous publications and presented his work at conferences including the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting, the Spinal Cord Plasticity in Motor Control Symposium and the ISCORE conference. He has a patent pending for vagus nerve stimulation for spinal cord rehabilitation, and his current work is expected to result in more patents.
In addition to his work on Battelle’s internal research and development projects, Patrick is working to develop new intellectual property and solve technical challenges on behalf of Battelle’s clients. He anticipates that the clinical applications for bioelectronic medicine will continue to grow as more medical device companies seek to tap its potential. “One of the next frontiers we are excited about is closed-loop bioelectronic medicine driven by machine learning,” he says. “These technologies can provide both nervous system stimulation and feedback to enable smart, responsive medical devices. This will one day soon enable the creation of user friendly devices that can respond to signals from the body in real time and deliver the exact type of nerve stimulation needed. The potential here is truly exciting for applications including pain reduction and the management of several other chronic health conditions.”