Continuous and intensive multi-disciplinary research is the secret of innovative solutions able to change our lives

Published Wednesday, 5 November, 2014
Updated Tuesday, 28 July, 2015

This is a guest blog post written by Prof. Silvestro Micera, The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Italy) and Center for Neuroprostheticsand Institute of Bioengienering, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (Switzerland).

I am a professor of neural engineering who has been working on the development of more effective solutions to restore sensory-motor function in disabled people for (almost) twenty years. I think I can represent a good example of how watching TV and reading comics is not necessarily bad (do not say this to my son!). As a teenager I was crazy about TV shows such as “The Six Million Dollar Man”, movies such as Star Wars or Marvel comics…I liked (like) technology, cyborgs etc. When Paolo Dario, professor at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA) suggested we join a European Project called INTER. This was the start of a long and fruitful collaboration, a passionate adventure. We participated in the first “Future and Emerging Technologies” (FET) Call…this was a dream come true!!  We got that grant, the CYBERHAND project started as did my adventure in #bionics and #neuroprosthetics. It took me many years, but, in February 2014, we published a paper in Science Translational Medicine (Raspopovic et al., 2014) showing that at least a small piece of “Luke Skywalker” hand prosthesis was possible (and my son finally understood what I did at work!). Implanting and using small electrodes into the peripheral nerves allowed the person to retrieve sophisticated quasi-natural information about the grasping force and to understand the shape and stiffness of some objects. Now, the next step is to make this clinical trial available for all patients. I am working hard on this with The BioRobotics Institute at SSSA and the Center for Neuroprosthetics of the EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) and, in particular, within a new FET project, NEBIAS , which I am currently coordinating.

I am an example of how an excellent research environment can help reflect on and implement disruptive research to create innovative products. The first two projects I was involved in, FET CYBERHAND and FET NEUROBOTICS, helped me to start discussing with people with different backgrounds, understand pros and cons of different choices, try new ways, make mistakes and seek other solutions.

I would like to thank the unique FET community, in particular the two FET Officers, Dr. Karp and Dr. Ellis who have  always been supportive throughout the entire process, creating a favourable "crazy" innovative environment. The relevance of such a context has been presented by Prof. Mariana Mazzucato (@MazzucatoM) in her book “The entrepreneurial state”. She illustrates why a public environment can facilitate disruptive research in an incredibly effective way. I hope that the new EU Commission will push more in this direction to make EU the “place of disruptive innovation”.

Another EC officer, Walter van de Velde (@waltervdv), told me once “FET can change your life”…and this was really my case…thanks FET…thanks European research!

Follow me on Twitter – @_smicera

If you want to know more about the NEBIAS and CYBERHAND project, read this article on CORDIS and have a look at this interesting video!