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Research

The Beginnings

Since its foundation in 1963 by the late Professor Lojze Vodovnik, the Laboratory of Biocybernetics has been involved in the study of interaction between electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and biological systems. This includes both the investigation of harmful effects of EMFs on organisms and the exploitation of beneficial effects of EMFs for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes. The research activities of our group have been directed above all towards the latter. During the period from the mid-1960s to the end of the 1970s, the major research topic was Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES). Extensive work was done in collaboration with Slovenian Institute of Rehabilitation on the use of electric currents for the restoration of impaired motor functions caused by different types of neuromuscular diseases. Considerable success was achieved in paraplegic persons and in hemiplegic patients recovering from brain stroke. The major advantage of FES implemented in the so-called Ljubljana School of Walking has been its combination of efficacy and simplicity of application. The idea behind this type of FES has been adopted by many rehabilitation centers in the world. At our school it is being developed further in the Laboratory of Robotics at our faculty. A FES Museum at the faculty contains 43 exhibits dating from the beginning of the 20th century to the beginning of the 1990s. Since 2013, the most important achievements in this field are also presented in the Virtual exhibition “Health through Technology” prepared by the Technical Museum of Slovenia in Bistra.

Current Research

Since 1980s, our main field of research are the investigations of the influence of electric currents and electromagnetic fields on the physiological state of cells, tissues, organs, and the body as a whole. The aims of this research are to understand the basic mechanisms of bioelectric phenomena and to facilitate their use for therapeutic purposes. Major directions pursued in our group are cell membrane electroporation with its applications in biology, biotechnology, and medicine, particularly electrochemotherapy of tumors (ECT) and electrogene therapy (EGT), electrical stimulation of chronic wound healing and non-invasive measurements of tissue perfusion and oxygenation. To gain an insight into the studied phenomena, we are determining, both analytically and numerically, the distribution of currents and fields within cell suspensions and tissues. We are also developing the electronic devices for application in these fields of research, as well as information technology for clinical trials. A more detailed description of our work in each field can be obtained by following the links in the research tab.

We regularly present the results of our research in articles in SCI-ranked scientific journals (over 140 articles since 2000), as well as at scientific conferences and meetings. For our inventions we received two European and two US patents.

We are cooperating with several research institutions and industrial partners from around Europe. Within the CLINIPORATOR project of the 5th EU Framework (2000-2003), we have collaborated with partners from France, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, in developing a prototype of a clinical electroporator – a device for ECT and EGT in patients. Within the ESOPE project (www.cliniporator.com) of the 5th EU Framework (2003-2005), we have worked with four medical and research centers from France, Denmark, Ireland, and Slovenia, in establishing standard operating procedures for electrochemotherapy and electrogenetherapy. Within the ANGIOSKIN project of the 6th EU framework (since 2005) we teamed up with partners from France, Belgium, Italy, Denmark and Germany in developing a system for skin EGT, which is characterized by delivering the gene material and electric pulses through hollow needle microelectrodes.

Education

Students are encouraged to participate in our research, and some start with their work in the very first year of undergraduate studies at our faculty. After graduation, some pursue a postgraduate course, deepening and broadening their knowledge. Four to six students graduate in our lab each year, and two to three postgraduate students obtain their M.S. or Ph.D. degrees.