Researcher

Associate Professor Ingvars Birznieks

My Expertise

Sensory physiology, touch, tactile, hand prosthesis, bionics. 

Keywords

Fields of Research (FoR)

Neurobiology, Sensory Systems, Neurosciences, Sensory Processes, Perception and Performance, Peripheral Nervous System

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Biography

Dr Ingvars Birznieks is a sensory neurophysiologist interested in sensory information encoding mechanisms. He received his PhD training at the Umeå University in Sweden and the University of Melbourne, Australia - the leading laboratories in the field of somatosensory research.

During his postdoctoral studies at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute in Sydney, he broadened his research competence investigating proprioception, muscle...view more

Dr Ingvars Birznieks is a sensory neurophysiologist interested in sensory information encoding mechanisms. He received his PhD training at the Umeå University in Sweden and the University of Melbourne, Australia - the leading laboratories in the field of somatosensory research.

During his postdoctoral studies at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute in Sydney, he broadened his research competence investigating proprioception, muscle pain mechanisms and function of the autonomic nervous system.

From 2011 to 2014 he held an academic position of Senior Lecturer (Physiology) at the School of Science and Health at the Western Sydney University where he engaged in Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience (BENS) research program at MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour & Development.

Since 2014 he is at the Department of Physiology, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Medicine in Sydney. In the role of a Senior Research Fellow he leads the Tactile research group at the Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA).

His research primarily comprises range of studies related to the function of tactile receptors and sensorimotor control of the human hand. However, his ultimate goal is to use this fundamental knowledge and develop two branches of collaborative networks - one with clinicians, which would be aimed to develop new methods for evaluation of sensorimotor function in different groups of patients, while the second branch would be aimed to work with biomedical engineers to create artificial sensors and control algorithms for prosthesis and robotic manipulators resembling functionality of the human hand.

Research topic classification: tactile, tactile sensing, tactile sensors, touch, touch perception, vibro-tactile, sensory physiology, sensory, processing, sensory systems, haptics, neurobiology, neurophysiology, neuroscience, peripheral nervous system, prostheses, robotics, stroke, stroke rehabilitation, sensorimotor control, dexterity, hand, biomedical engineering, bionics, computational neuroscience.


My Grants

Birznieks I., Vickery R.M., Potas J.R., Shivdasani M., The role of spike patterning in shaping human perception of tactile stimuli. ARC Discovery Project grant. App Id: DP200100630 $550,000 Funding for 2020-2022 

Birznieks I. Sensory mechanisms underlying human dexterity in object manipulation. ARC discovery project grant. App Id: DP170100064 $365,500; Funding for 2017-2019

Breen P., Stiefel K., Birznieks I., Penkala S. A novel electrical device to restore sensory feeling lost due to disease and ageing. NHMRC Project Grant Funding Round. App Id: APP1067353 $308,247; Funding for 2014-2016

Birznieks I., Khamis H. Sensorimotor control of hand movement and dexterous object manipulation. 2013 UWS School of Science and Health Strategic Research Investment grant. $30,000

Birznieks I., Redmond S.J., Macefield V.G. The encoding of friction by tactile mechanoreceptors – the key to fingertip force control during dexterous object manipulation by humans. ARC discovery project grant. App Id: DP110104691 $290,000; Funding for 2012-2014

Birznieks I., Vickery R.M., Macefield V.G., Krishnan A.V. Information encoding by temporal structure of afferent spike trains evoked by complex vibrotactile stimuli. NHMRC Project Grant Funding Round. App Id: APP1028284 $231,175; Funding for 2012-2014

Macefield V.G., Birznieks I. The effects of tonic muscle pain on the sympathetic and somatic motor systems in human subjects. NHMRC Project Grant Funding Round. App Id: APP1028284 $447,350; Funding for 2012-2014

Seizova-Cajic T., Birznieks I. Adaptation and aftereffects in perception of tactile motion. ARC discovery project grant. App Id: DP110104691 $160, 000; Funding for 2011-2013


My Research Activities

Our research comprises a range of studies related to the sense of touch in various contexts being it clinically relevant like for example stroke, pain, diabetic neuropathy, loss of limb or solving engineering problems by borrowing ideas from biological systems to build dexterous robotic manipulators and prosthesis which can also feel.

Our research program is interdisciplinary and relies on innovative platform capabilities linking the neurosciences, medicine and engineering disciplines.

 

  • Neural code – the language of the nervous system; how to eavesdrop and understand neural communication and how to send our own messages through this channel

Touch receptors in the fingertips communicate with the brain using short electrical impulses also called spikes. My research is about how those impulses encode information and how it is interpreted by the brain. To address these questions we have learned to create those exact patterns of spikes in touch neurons using non-invasive mechanical stimuli. This technology is unique to our laboratory and has been developed over several years of tight collaboration between Dr Richard Vickery and me. We have gained unprecedented access to neural communication at the level of single neurons and the ability to investigate how spiking activity in those neurons influences perceptual experience. With this knowledge of neural code and non-invasive access to the communication channel we can “trick” the brain into thinking it is touching objects that are our artificial constructs.

 

  • Dexterity of the human hand – how hand movements are controlled by sense of touch and how this knowledge could be used to build a robotic or bionic hands

The dexterity of the human hand still remains unmatched by the most advanced artificial devices - largely because it is not understood how relevant sensory information is extracted and utilised. My research builds upon interdisciplinary technologies integrating sensory and computational neuroscience and biomedical engineering. It is directed to gain understanding of the sophisticated sensory and motor control mechanisms underlying the unique human ability to manipulate objects and use tools. Extending beyond the fundamental scientific focus of understanding sense of touch, this research is aimed to inform the development of next generation sensory-controlled bionic systems and tele-sensory haptics devices including telesurgery robots.

 

  • Stroke - distorted touch perception after stroke

Recovery of hand dexterity after stroke cannot be achieved in the absence of tactile sensory information, but the interpretation of this input requires that orderly somatotopic representation of hand’s skin has to be preserved. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case after substantial reorganization of neural connectivity following brain tissue damage due to stroke. This research is important as without tactile sensory information, functional use of the hand is hardly possible, even when motor system is intact. Rehabilitation efforts that do not address this can bring only limited improvements.

 

You can read more about the research projects and research team [here]

 


My Research Supervision


Supervision keywords


Areas of supervision

Supervision is available for students of Science, Medical science, Biomedical engineering, Computer science and Robotics.

PhD, Honours, Masters and ILP students are welcome. For PhD students there is opportunity to be involved in collaborative projects in France and Sweden.

Areas of interest: Neuroscience, sensory systems, touch, information encoding, bionics, artificial intelligence, hand prosthesis, computational neuroscience, stroke, diabetic neuropathy, biomedical engineering, robotics and haptics.

Project examples:

Neural coding in the sense of touch.

Sensorimotor control of human hand in the context of object manipulation (fundamental neurobiology, computational neuroscience, prosthetics, robotics. This project is suitable for medical science and engineering students).

Deciphering the neural code: recordings of nerve signals from single sensory neurons (tactile afferents) in humans (microneurography).

Bionics of the sense of touch – interdisciplinary project joining medical sciences and engineering. This theme has projects suitable for medical, biomedical science and engineering students of various specialisations interested in bionics of sensory systems and design of biomimetic artificial sensors, for example, biomedical, mechatronic, electrical, software, telecommunications and chemical engineering.

 

Examples of the latest most relevant peer-reviewed indexed publications of my supervised and co-supervised undergraduate students (Honours, ILP):

  • Undergraduate student journal papers (student names underlined)

 

Ng K.K.W., Olausson C., Vickery R.M., Birznieks I. (2020) Temporal patterns in electrical nerve stimulation: burst gap code shapes tactile frequency perception. PLoS ONE 15(8):e0237440.  doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0237440.

Birznieks  I., McIntyre  S., Nilsson  H. M., Nagi  S. S., Macefield  V. G., Mahns  D. A., and Vickery R. M. (2019). Tactile sensory channels over-ruled by frequency decoding system that utilizes spike pattern regardless of receptor type. Elife, 2019(8): e46510. doi: 10.7554/eLife.46510

Hudson K. M., Condon M., Ackerley R., McGlone F., Olausson H., Macefield V. G., Birznieks I. (2015). Effects of changing skin mechanics on the differential sensitivity to surface compliance by tactile afferents in the human finger pad. J Neurophysiol, 114 (4): 2249-2257.

Condon M., Birznieks I., Hudson K., Chelvanayagam D.K., Mahns D., Olausson H., Macefield V.G. (2014) Differential sensitivity to surface compliance by tactile afferents in the human finger pad. Journal of Neurophysiol. 111 (6): 1308-1317.

 

  • Undergraduate student conference papers (peer reviewed, indexed, book chapters)

 

Ng K.K.W., Birznieks I., Tse I.T.H., Andersen J., Nilsson S., Vickery R.M. (2018) Perceived frequency of aperiodic vibrotactile stimuli depends on temporal encoding. In: Prattichizzo D., Shinoda H., Tan H., Ruffaldi E., Frisoli A. (Eds) Haptics: Science, Technology, and Applications: 11th International Conference, EuroHaptics 2016, Pisa, Italy, June 13-16, 2018, Proceedings, Part I (pp. 199-208). Springer Cham.

McIntyre S., Birznieks I., Andersson R., Dicander G., Breen P., Vickery RM. (2016) Temporal integration of tactile inputs from multiple sites. In: Bello F., Kajimoto H. & Visell Y. (Eds) Haptics: Perception, Devices, Control, and Applications: 10th International Conference, EuroHaptics 2016, London, UK, July 4-7, 2016, Proceedings, Part I (pp. 204-213). Springer International Publishing.

Sezova-Cajic T., Bergstrom S., Karlsson K., McIntyre S., Birznieks I. (2014) Lateral skin stretch influences direction judgments of motion across the skin. In: Auvray M. and Duriez C. (Eds) Haptics: Neuroscience, Devices, Modeling, and Applications, Springer Berlin / Heidelberg, pp. 425-431.

 


Currently supervising

Our lab and students in 2019

 

Tactile Research Lab 2019

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Location

Wallace Wurth Building
3NW, room 314

Contact

+61-2-9065 1598