The University of Utah electrical and computer engineering department’s new assistant professor Jacob George has received the National Institute of Health Director’s Early Independence Award.

Part of the NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, the Director’s Early Independence Award supports exceptional junior scientists who have recently received their doctoral degree or completed their medical residency to skip traditional post-doctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions. George is one of 13 in the nation who have received this year’s award. He is the first awardee from The University of Utah since the award was established in 2011.

“I’m honored to have received this award. And I’m thankful for all the support I’ve received from the U. It’s really an exciting time here in Utah,” George said “This award aligns perfectly with the opening of the new Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital, and I’m excited to bring together people and technology from the College of Engineering and the School of Medicine to improve the lives of patients.”

George’s award provides $1.8 million over five years to develop thought-controlled bionic exoskeletons to assist and rehabilitate stroke patients.

After a stroke, 80% of patients are left paralyzed on half of their body, an impairment known as hemiparesis. Recovery is long, often not successful, and dependent on expensive equipment that is not available to rural populations. His award will leverage new advances in artificial intelligence to better understand how the neuromuscular system recovers from hemiparesis and enable smart bionic exoskeletons that adapt to the patient’s needs. George plans to test his new bionic exoskeleton with patients at the Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital with the hope they can use the device to immediately return to their daily activities.

George received his bachelor’s in biomedical engineering from The University of Texas at Austin and his master’s and doctorate in biomedical engineering from the University of Utah. His research has been previously supported by fellowships from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.

George’s new lab, the Utah’s NeuroRobotics Lab, seeks to augment biological neural networks with artificial neural networks and bionic devices to treat neurological disorders and further scientists’ understanding of the brain. His lab is developing biologically inspired artificial intelligence and brain-machine interfaces to restore and/or enhance human function.

George has been a key researcher in several other high-profile bionic devices. He previously worked on the LUKE Arm prosthesis, a motorized artificial hand co-developed with DEKA Research & Development Corp. The prosthetic allows users to manipulate the hand with their thoughts as well as “feel” sensations through a neural interface.

This work continues to bring George both accolades and funding.  George will receive the Association of Clinical and Translational Science Outstanding Trainee: Post-Doctoral Award at Translational Science 2021. He was also recently awarded a $100,000  research instrumentation fund award to work on high-channel-count electrophysiology equipment, which will enable research collaborations and new frontiers in the area of brain-computer interfaces.

One goal of this funding is to help establish connections between upper and lower campus at the University of Utah. Specifically to bring ECE research into the new Craig H. Neilsen Rehabilitation Hospital.

Learn more about George’s research and how to get involved here.