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Alberto Averna

Post Doc Fellow

Research Line

Rehab Technologies - INAIL-IIT lab


IIT Central Research Labs Genova


Our Lab focuses on understanding the brain's self-repair capacity after injury, and developing novel therapeutic approaches based on electrical stimulation of neural tissue. We adopt a bottom ­up approach, starting from single cell optical manipulation, passing through the investigation of in vitro neuronal circuits, up to the study of novel stimulation protocols to be applied within in vivo cortico-cortical networks with the aim at promoting recovery after brain injury.

For this purpose I’ve been involved in an EC-funded project Brain Bow (, focused on the development of technological tools for brain repair. Here I characterized the spontaneous and evoked activity of 2D finite-size networks grown on Multi Electrode Arrays (MEAs), before and after selective laser dissection of physical connections between neuronal sub-populations. This quantitative characterization of the lesion-induced changes in activity will allow for a reproducible injury model to possibly test innovative ‘brain-prostheses‘.

Due to the collaboration with the laboratory of Randolph Nudo at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KU Med), I moved from in vivo neural networks to in vivo animal models. In this framework our strategy is to use electrical stimulation of a neural tissue as a tool to guide the plasticity of the network following an injury. We are comparing different kinds of protocols in both open and closed-loop (in particular, activity dependent stimulation) in order to investigate whether or not the electrical stimulation can be used to potentiate functional connectivity between distant cortical locations in both healthy and injured (Stroke or Traumatic brain injury TBI) rat brains.

In 2012, Alberto Averna graduated in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Pavia (ITALY), with a thesis about Data mining techniques for the differentiation stage prediction of stem cells (IPSCs) from DNA microarrays data.

In July 2014, he was awarded a Master Degree in Bioengineering (Neuroengineering curriculum). Thesis: Study of modular neural network’s dynamics in both physiological and pathological condition.

In November 2014, he started the PhD in Neuroscience at Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Neuroscience and Brain Technologies Department).

From January to May 2015, he was trained in In Vivo ICMS and models of brain injuries at University of Kansas Medical Center (Ku Med)

From June to December 2016, he was trained in In Vivo ICMS and models of brain injuries at University of Kansas Medical Center (Ku Med)

From June to August 2017, he was trained in In Vivo ICMS and models of brain injuries at University of Kansas Medical Center (Ku Med)

From June to August 2018, he was trained in In Vivo ICMS and models of brain injuries at University of Kansas Medical Center (Ku Med) 


Ph.D – Doctor Europaeus degree in Neuroscience - Curriculum Neuroscience and Neurotechnologies 2019

Università degli studi di Genova (Genova, Italy), Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT, Genova, Italy).

Ph.D. thesis: “Evaluating the impact of intracortical microstimulation on distant cortical brain regions for neuroprosthetic applications”. Advisor: Dr M. Chiappalone.

On November 2014 I started a four years fully funded Ph.D. program at IIT. During this period, I spent a total of 1 year and 1 month at the Kansas University Medical Center (Kansas City, KS, USA) in Dr. Nudo’s Cortical Plasticity lab. The entire project has been funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Collaboration (MAECI – Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Collaborazione Internazionale), directorate general for country promotion, as high-relevance bilateral project within the Italy-USA.

Master Degree 2014
EQF level 7
University of Genova, Genova (Italy)
"Studio della dinamica di reti modulari di neuroni in condizioni fisiologiche e patologiche"
("Study of modular neural network’s dynamics in both physiological and pathological condition")
Final grade (107/110), with worthiness of publication
This thesis is part of an European Project: BrainBow project (, in which i attended the third Progress Meeting and Measuring Session held in Genova on October 07th-08th, 2013 and i contributed to achieve some of the results discussed at the second Review Meeting of BrainBow that was held at the University of Bordeaux on March 18th, 2014.

Bachelor Degree 2012

University of Pavia, Pavia (Italy)
"Tecniche di data mining per la predizione dello stadio di differenziamento di cellule staminali da dati di DNA microarrays"
Biomedical Engineering


Linking biological and artificial neuronal assemblies to restore lost brain functions: towards the design of innovative bi-directional neuroprostheses – BRAIN-BOW, European Union ‘FET Open Young Explorers’, Started February 1st, 2012. Total grant: 997’148.00€ (2012-2015).

Novel technological approaches for rewiring neural circuitry following brain injury. Progetto di ricerca scientifica e tecnologica bilaterale di “Grande Rilevanza”, MAECI (2016-2018).

Selected Publications


Averna A.,Pasquale V., Murphy M., Rogantin MP., Van Acker G., Nudo R.J., Chiappalone M. and Guggenmos DDifferential effects of open- and closed-loop intracortical microstimulation on firing patterns of neurons in distant cortical areas2019, bioRxiv doi: 10.1101/534032

Buccelli S., Bornat Y., Colombi I., Ambroise M., Martines L., Pasquale V., Bisio M., Tessadori J., Nowak P., Grassia F., Averna A., Tedesco M., Bonifazi P., Difato F., Massobrio P., Levi T. and Chiappalone M. A neuroprosthetic system to restore neuronal communication in modular networks2019, bioRxiv 514836; doi: 10.1101/514836

Averna A., Guggenmos D., Pasquale V., Semprini M., Nudo R.J. and Chiappalone MNeuroengineering Tools for Studying the Effect of Intracortical Microstimulation in Rodent Models. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society – July 17-21, 2018. Honolulu (HI), USA. Oral Presentation. doi: 10.1109/EMBC.2018.8512915, 3076 3079.

Averna A., Pasquale V., Dunham C., Guggenmos D., Nudo R.J and Chiappalone M. Effects of intracortical microstimulation functional connectivity implications for neurorehabilitation studies.European Medical and Biological Engineering Conference (EMBEC) and the Nordic-Baltic Conference on Biomedical Engineering and Medical Physics (NBC) – Tampere (Finland) June 11-15 2017. Oral Presentation


Best paper award is presented to: Alberto Averna et al., for the outstanding paper entitled: "Neurophysiology guided single cell optical surgery". 4° Joint Workshop on Computer/Robot Assisted Surgery. 14-16 October 2014 - Genoa, Italy.

Best Poster Certificate awarded to Alberto Averna for the poster titled "Evaluation of the effects of intra-cortical microstimulation on distant cortical brain regions: implications for neuro-rehabilitation studies". 7th Summer School of Neuroengineering. 18-22 June 2018 - Genoa, Italy.


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I numeri di IIT

L’Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) è una fondazione di diritto privato - cfr. determinazione Corte dei Conti 23/2015 “IIT è una fondazione da inquadrare fra gli organismi di diritto pubblico con la scelta di un modello di organizzazione di diritto privato per rispondere all’esigenza di assicurare procedure più snelle nella selezione non solo nell’ambito nazionale dei collaboratori, scienziati e ricercatori ”.

IIT è sotto la vigilanza del Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca e del Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze ed è stato istituito con la Legge 326/2003. La Fondazione ha l'obiettivo di promuovere l'eccellenza nella ricerca di base e in quella applicata e di favorire lo sviluppo del sistema economico nazionale. La costruzione dei laboratori iniziata nel 2006 si è conclusa nel 2009.

Lo staff complessivo di IIT conta circa 1440 persone. L’area scientifica è rappresentata da circa l’85% del personale. Il 45% dei ricercatori proviene dall’estero: di questi, il 29% è costituito da stranieri provenienti da oltre 50 Paesi e il 16% da italiani rientrati. Oggi il personale scientifico è composto da circa 60 principal investigators, circa 110 ricercatori e tecnologi di staff, circa 350 post doc, circa 500 studenti di dottorato e borsisti, circa 130 tecnici. Oltre 330 posti su 1400 creati su fondi esterni. Età media 34 anni. 41% donne / 59 % uomini.

Nel 2015 IIT ha ricevuto finanziamenti pubblici per circa 96 milioni di euro (80% del budget), conseguendo fondi esterni per 22 milioni di euro (20% budget) provenienti da 18 progetti europei17 finanziamenti da istituzioni nazionali e internazionali, circa 60 progetti industriali

La produzione di IIT ad oggi vanta circa 6990 pubblicazioni, oltre 130 finanziamenti Europei e 11 ERC, più di 350 domande di brevetto attive, oltre 12 start up costituite e altrettante in fase di lancio. Dal 2009 l’attività scientifica è stata ulteriormente rafforzata con la creazione di dieci centri di ricerca nel territorio nazionale (a Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) e internazionale (MIT ed Harvard negli USA) che, unitamente al Laboratorio Centrale di Genova, sviluppano i programmi di ricerca del piano scientifico 2015-2017.

IIT: the numbers

Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) is a public research institute that adopts the organizational model of a private law foundation. IIT is overseen by Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca and Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze (the Italian Ministries of Education, Economy and Finance).  The Institute was set up according to Italian law 326/2003 with the objective of promoting excellence in basic and applied research andfostering Italy’s economic development. Construction of the Laboratories started in 2006 and finished in 2009.

IIT has an overall staff of about 1,440 people. The scientific staff covers about 85% of the total. Out of 45% of researchers coming from abroad 29% are foreigners coming from more than 50 countries and 16% are returned Italians. The scientific staff currently consists of approximately 60 Principal Investigators110 researchers and technologists350 post-docs and 500 PhD students and grant holders and 130 technicians. External funding has allowed the creation of more than 330 positions . The average age is 34 and the gender balance proportion  is 41% female against 59% male.

In 2015 IIT received 96 million euros in public funding (accounting for 80% of its budget) and obtained 22 million euros in external funding (accounting for 20% of its budget). External funding comes from 18 European Projects, other 17 national and international competitive projects and approximately 60 industrial projects.

So far IIT accounts for: about 6990 publications, more than 130 European grants and 11 ERC grants, more than 350 patents or patent applications12 up start-ups and as many  which are about to be launched. The Institute’s scientific activity has been further strengthened since 2009 with the establishment of 11 research nodes throughout Italy (Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) and abroad (MIT and Harvard University, USA), which, along with the Genoa-based Central Lab, implement the research programs included in the 2015-2017 Strategic Plan.