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Johnson looks to revolutionize bioelectronic medicine with National Science Foundation CAREER award

Ben Johnson headshot

Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Ben Johnson received the prestigious National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. Johnson became the 25th recipient of the award in the college’s 25th anniversary year.

The NSF CAREER award is bestowed upon early-career researchers who exhibit exceptional promise in both their research and educational efforts. Johnson earned a grant of approximately $500,000 over five years to advance his career trajectory and impact his research in the Integrated Bioelectronic Medicine Laboratory on the Boise State campus.

“We are so proud to have such a stellar record of early career achievement in our college,” College of Engineering Dean JoAnn S. Lighty said. “Johnson’s success is especially noteworthy as we end our year-long celebration. Congratulations to Dr. Johnson on his impressive award that showcases our faculty’s drive to work on solving our world’s complex challenges.”

Multi-channel, Sub-microliter Implants for Selective Neuromodulation

Can we revolutionize arthritis, hypertension and depression treatment? Or transform devastating opioid overuse for pain by stimulating the human nervous system with wireless, “intelligent” implants smaller than a grain of rice? That’s what Johnson intends to find out.

Bioelectronic medicine can revolutionize how we practice medicine in offering non-opioid pain management while addressing conditions from traumatic brain injuries to sleep apnea and even high blood pressure.

Bioelectronic medicines are neurotechnology devices that read and modulate the electrical impulses of the body’s nervous system to control, regulate, or restore functions such as the ability to move, breathe, see, think and more.

Johnson’s research examines foundational knowledge of implant circuitry that can revolutionize neurostimulation implant design, and offer a more viable and compelling alternative to pharmaceutical treatments.

Current bioelectronic medicine devices are too large to target small nerves for effective therapy, deliver indiscriminate stimulation on large nerves resulting in significant off-target effects, and lack the sophistication for closed-loop, automated processing. 

Johnson’s support research project will address these issues through key innovations in circuit design, system development and closed-loop control. The project’s impact is extended through a multi-tiered education initiative to bolster the local semiconductor and neurotechnology workforce with collaboration from industry experts.

Supported by the NSF’s Division of Electrical, Communication, and Cyber Systems (ECCS) and the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), Johnson’s expected impact will significantly reduce clinician burden, improve patient compliance, and reduce adverse drug reactions and abuse.