Welcome to the Bronte-Stewart lab

Human Motor Control and Neuromodulation

Reverse Engineering Brain Circuitry to Restore Movement Using Innovations in Neural Interfaces

The brain is an electrical organ: interactions among different brain circuits are mediated by electrical signaling and control how we move, think, and feel. Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease reflect disordered electrical activity in brain circuits. At Stanford, innovations in neural interface technology have allowed us to discover how this abnormal electrical activity contributes to disorders in movement. In the Human Motor Control and Neuromodulation Laboratory, the first decoding of electrical activity in deep brain structures during abnormal movement in Parkinson’s disease patients was performed using novel and investigative sensing neurostimulators.  Our team has deconstructed brain activity to discover the neural code responsible for the abnormality of walking in Parkinson’s disease, which predicts debilitating freezing events that can cause falls, significant morbidity, and even death. This has enabled us to reverse engineer brain circuitry and restore movement in Parkinson’s disease using the first closed loop, demand-based brain pacemakers.

Our team, comprising neuroscientists, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and mechanical, electrical, biomedical and software engineers are now starting to translate this brain activity into algorithms to drive deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease.  In addition to responding to neural and kinematic markers of movement impairment, these neural interface systems will modulate their activity based on the amount and timing of medication to avoid the adverse effects associated with fluctuating levels of medication. Our future directions aim to understand the intersection of cognitive impairment and gait disorders, using novel augmented reality interventions, with the goal of developing an innovative program in neuromodulation for cognitive impairment in people with Parkinson’s disease.