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Meet Alex Rodriguez, Dan Duncan Postdoctoral Fellowship Recipient in ECE

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Please join us in welcoming Alex Rodriguez to the ECE community! Dr. Rodriguez has received a Dan Duncan Postdoctoral Fellowship and will be working with ECE faculty members Jacob Robinson and Caleb Kemere developing and testing microfluidic devices for the implantation of flexible recording electrodes into the brain.

“The idea is that we can use fluid flow to keep flexible electrodes stiff just as they enter the brain without changing the profile of the electrode during implantation,” he said. He noted the technique could extend the lifespan of electrodes from months to years, allowing for longer-term research that was previously impossible.

A Houston native, Dr. Rodriguez received his B.S. in Brain and Cognitive Sciences from MIT, and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016, where he performed long-term recordings of animal brains.

“I became very familiar with the limitations of modern recording electrodes during my Ph.D. work,” he said. “Most electrodes are made from rigid materials and have the same short lifespan. Due to a combination of acute and chronic damage that results from implanting stiff electrodes into the soft tissue of the brain, most chronic recordings are limited to just a few months until immune responses block the probe and prevent signals from being recorded.”

He explained that flexible electrodes cause far less tissue damage but are more difficult to implant without bending the electrode, rendering it ineffective. To try and work around the issue, scientists often use a water-soluble glue or support rod to stiffen the electrode for implantation, but these methods increase the size of the probe and thus cause tissue damage during implantation. He looks forward to working with ECE faculty to tackle this complex problem.

“I feel honored to be chosen for the Dan Duncan Neuroengineering Fellowship,” he said. “I have been interested in the intersection of neuroscience and engineering for a long time, and I’m excited to now work towards a solution to a long standing technical problem in neuroscience research.”

-Jennifer Hunter