C. Niu, Sirish Nandyala, Won Sohn, Terence Sanger
Our central goal is to quantify the long-term progression of pediatric neurological diseases, such as a typical 10-15 years progression of child dystonia. To this purpose, quantitative models are convincing only if they can provide multi-scale details ranging from neuron spikes to limb biomechanics. The models also need to be evaluated in hyper-time, i.e. significantly faster than real-time, for producing useful predictions. We designed a platform with digital VLSI hardware for multi-scale hyper-time emulations of human motor nervous systems. The platform is constructed on a scalable, distributed array of Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) devices. All devices operate asynchronously with 1 millisecond time granularity, and the overall system is accelerated to 365x real-time. Each physiological component is implemented using models from well documented studies and can be flexibly modified. Thus the validity of emulation can be easily advised by neurophysiologists and clinicians. For maximizing the speed of emulation, all calculations are implemented in combinational logic instead of clocked iterative circuits. This paper presents the methodology of building FPGA modules in correspondence to components of a monosynaptic spinal loop. Results of emulated activities are shown. The paper also discusses the rationale of approximating neural circuitry by organizing neurons with sparse interconnections. In conclusion, our platform allows introducing various abnormalities into the neural emulation such that the emerging motor symptoms can be analyzed. It compels us to test the origins of childhood motor disorders and predict their long-term progressions.