MSc thesis project proposal

[2021] Focused ultrasound vagus nerve stimulation

Project outside the university

IMEC Holst Centre
The candidate is expected to develop a setup based on the latest noninvasive FUS prototypes for VNS and a software framework for closed-loop neuromodulation developed at imec. An important part of the assignment is the work on creating a (physical) model to be used to test the impact of VNS stimulation on the nerve bundle(s) and how the stimulation effects are changing with stimulation adaptation.

VNS is shown to have beneficial effects in a number of clinical conditions, including epilepsy, headaches, and chronic pain. Typical applications of VNS involve implantation of a system that deliver currents over the part of vagus nerve using a so-called cuff electrode. Although effective, this method comes with a number of challenges considering cuff design, current delivery paradigm and difficulty in minimizing side effects. An alternative would be having a setup that can deliver stimulation in a noninvasive way.

FUS is a method that is shown to excite neuronal activity when applied both invasively and superficially. Recently, new miniaturized systems have been developed that facilitate FUS delivery through a wearable device [1]. Although the feasibility of VNS using FUS is demonstrated [2], the effects of the stimulation and the methods to adapt the stimulation parameters for optimizing stimulation protocols are not known. This is partially due to the challenges of developing a miniaturized system that can stimulate and perform anatomical analysis at the same time, but also due to the need to perform laboratory tests on animals and/or humans to assess the effects.

Having a model that can assess the impact of VNS stimulation on the nerve bundles and a setup where the impact of stimulation can be identified in (near) real-time would offer advantage in terms of exploring and further evolving the FUS VNS stimulation. It would also facilitate shorter and more optimal route to animal and human trials.


One of the latest systems for FUS VNS will be at disposal to the student along with the latest closed-loop real-time stimulation platform. The candidate will have the opportunity to build upon those solutions and know-how in the field. The project will have five phases:
1. Research on state-of-the-art in VNS stimulation and the use of FUS
2. Exploration and development / acquisition of the cuff electrode
3. Adaptation of the FUS electronic system for VNS such that it can facilitate optimization strategy
4. Development of the (physical) model for assessing the impact of FUS stimulation on VNS
5. Validation of the developed platform on a selected use case for optimizing FUS stimulation effects.

The candidate will also need to consider safety aspects in the design, testing, and validation steps.

As an outcome of the project, a thesis report should be produced that discusses the proposed framework, and testing and validation results. In case of solid results, submission to a conference or a journal might be encouraged.



Requirements: Highly driven and enthusiastic MSc students from Microelectronics or Biomedical Engineering should send a motivation letter, their CV, list of courses attended and grades obtained.


dr. Tiago Costa

Bioelectronics Group

Department of Microelectronics

Last modified: 2021-02-10