Neuroprosthetics (also called neural prosthetics) is a discipline related to neuroscience and biomedical engineering concerned with developing neural prostheses. Neural prostheses are a series of devices that can substitute a motor, sensory or cognitive modality that might have been damaged as a result of an injury or a disease. Cochlear implants provide an example of such devices. These devices substitute the functions performed by the ear drum and Stapes, while simulating the frequency analysis performed in the cochlea. A microphone on an external unit gathers the sound and processes it; the processed signal is then transferred to an implanted unit that stimulates the auditory nerves through a microelectrode array. Through the replacement or augmentation of damaged senses, these devices intend to improve the quality of life for those with disabilities.
These implantable devices are also commonly used in animal experimentation as a tool to aid neuroscientists in developing a greater understanding of the brain and its functioning. In wirelessly monitoring the brain's electrical signals sent out by electrodes implanted in the subject's brain, the subject can be studied without the device affecting the results.
Accurately probing and recording the electrical signals in the brain would help better understand the relationship among a local population of neurons that are responsible for a specific function.
Neural implants are designed to be as small as possible in order to be to minimally invasive, particularly in areas surrounding the brain, eyes or cochlea. These implants typically communicate with their prosthetic counterparts wirelessly. Additionally, power is currently received through wireless power transmission through the skin. The tissue surrounding the implant is usually highly sensitive to temperature rise, meaning that power consumption must be minimal in order to prevent tissue damage.
The neuroprosthetic currently undergoing the most widespread use is the cochlear implant, with approximately 100,000 in use worldwide as of 2006.