Yan builds neural prosthetics that can help people regain critical lost functions and enjoy a better quality of life.
Restoring function to a 40,000 year old piece of equipment that controls our every thought and move, but is not well understood at all, is a key part of what makes Dr Yan Wong tick. A Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering and the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, Yan is fascinated by the human brain, and how medical devices called neural prosthetics can potentially be used to help people regain critical lost functions and enjoy a better quality of life.
“Neural prosthetics are a brain-computer interface that have the potential to alleviate serious medical conditions such as blindness or hearing loss, or even quadriplegia,” he explained. “By carefully placing a small device into the brain, we can deliver electrical stimulation that can help restore some visual function for people with blindness, or decode electrical signals from the brain to help with prosthetic limb control. But to do that, we need to do a lot of work to understand some fundamental questions, such as, “How do our brains make us who we are? How does our brain control everything that we do? ”
“Neural prosthetics are a brain-computer interface that have the potential to alleviate serious medical conditions such as blindness or hearing loss, or even quadriplegia,”
A bionic eye
These types of questions underpin Yan’s work with the Monash Vision Group, who have been working for over a decade to develop the ground-breaking Gennaris vision system. The system includes hair-thin wireless implants that attach to the surface of the brain, bypassing damaged optic nerves that are unable to carry signals from the eyes. Clinical trials of the device are currently being prepared, and the plans to commercialise the technology are currently underway.
Making a clinic impact is Yan’s key focus for the next stage of his career. “Although taking the leap into commercialisation can be a challenging step for researchers, we have good support at Monash to do so,” he said. “The commercialisation of the Gennaris system will also help to open up further opportunities to explore even more much-needed applications, such as the moderation of epilepsy and mental health conditions,brain-controlled limb prosthetics, and the restoration of other senses such as hearing or smell.”
The human impact
The ability to have a direct impact on improving people’s lives is one of the core reasons why Yan is so passionate about his area of research and teaching. “When you’re working at the intersection of engineering and medicine, the human impact is very immediate and understandable,” he said. “We also have a lot of student interest in biomedical engineering, and I love teaching and supervising them, as each one is so unique, and it’s wonderful to be part of their journey. Our new biomedical specialisation will only strengthen our impact in this space. ”
Yan also believes it’s a pivotal time to be working in the Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering. “We’ve undergone quite a few changes in the last three years, and I’m excited that we’re growing even further,” said Yan. “We’re a close-knit department, and if you take a walk down our hallway, you’ll see a lot of young and dedicated researchers here, who work well together and are doing high-quality research that we’re all excited about.” Yan pointed out that their combined research offering across areas such as biomedical technology, robotics, wireless communications, renewable energy grid integration and electric vehicles; all touch on the world’s most critical issues - healthcare, global communications, automation and addressing the impact of climate change. “It’s a great place at a great time to make an impact,” he said.
Learn more about the Monash Vision Group
View Yan’s research profile