Shriya Srinivasan, Ph.D., is a biomedical engineer whose research focuses on how to combat neurological diseases by combining human physiology with neural interfaces. Harvard awarded her a Ph.D. in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics. Her doctoral research in Dr. Hugh Herr’s Biomechatronics group, which focused on developing novel amputation paradigms to restore sensory feedback, has now been translated to the clinic and is assisting amputees in living better lives.
She is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at the Langer Lab on ingestible neuro-modulation devices. Shriya is passionate about global health and healthcare entrepreneurship. She was previously the co-director of MIT’s Hacking Medicine program.
An artistic doctor
Shriya Srinivasan has experience of the challenges one faces while using prosthetic limbs, as her friend was using it.
Her friend was born without limbs and had to rely on prosthetics that lacked the critical neural signals that most people rely on to feel objects, maintain balance, and sense their body’s position in space. Srinivasan developed two new surgical techniques that may help people with prosthetic limbs and regain their sense of touch.
Shriya is a student of her mother, well-known dancer Sujatha Srinivasan.
Education and extra curriculum activities
Shriya is a Ph.D. student working on novel neural interfacing strategies in Dr. Hugh Herr’s Biomechatronics Lab at the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology. She is also an accomplished Bharathanatyam dancer who has performed all over the United States and India. She co-founded her own dance company in 2015, which has toured the country and received critical acclaim since then.
MIT researchers have demonstrated for the first time that nerves engineered to express light-activated proteins can generate limb movements that can be adjusted in real-time using cues generated by the motion of the limb. Similar electrical systems, which are sometimes used to stimulate nerves in spinal cord injury patients and others, produce smoother and less tiring movement than this technique.
While this method has only been tested on animals, Shriya Srinivasan, a Ph.D. student in medical engineering and medical physics at the MIT Media Lab and the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology, believes that with more research and human trials, this optogenetic technique could one day be used to restore movement in paralysed patients or to treat unwanted movements like muscle tremor.
Although the technology’s initial applications may be to restore motion to paralysed limbs or to power prosthetics, Srinivasan and her colleagues believe that an optogenetic system has the potential to restore limb sensation, turn off unwanted pain signals, or treat spastic or rigid muscle movements in neurological diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Electrical nerve stimulation is used in clinical settings to treat patients with spinal cord injuries for breathing, bowel, bladder, and sexual dysfunction, as well as to improve muscle conditioning in people with muscular degenerative diseases. Prosthetics and paralysed limbs can also be controlled using electrical stimulation. Electrical pulses delivered to nerve fibres called axons cause movement in muscles activated by the fibres in all cases.
Srinivasan suggested that the optogenetic system could be a good future fit for long-term motor operations such as robotic exoskeletons, which help paralysed people walk, or as long-term rehabilitation tools for people with degenerative muscle diseases.
Before the method can be applied to humans, researchers must experiment with the best ways to deliver light to deep-seated nerves in the body, as well as find safe and efficient ways to express opsins in human nerves.
Srinivasan explained, “There are currently 300 gene therapy trials and a few opsins trials, so it’s very likely in the near future.”
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