Recreating the Hodgkin-Huxley Model


Bethan Owen

One of the many strengths of the Department of Bioengineering is the opportunity students have to participate in research with support from professors and access to cutting-edge materials and equipment. Bioengineering junior Christopher George discovered this first-hand when he and several of his fellow students, including Darsh Gupta, Jas Przybylowicz, Jonathan Louis, Myra Kamdar, Romir Singla, Rutvik Sayankar, Sohom Dash, Walter Rickord, Zahra Adamji, and UIUC graduate Evan Patel decided to recreate the Hodgkin-Huxley model through the graphical programming model Simulink. 


The Hodgkin-Huxley model, also called the conductance-based model, is used to describe how action potentials in neurons occur and provides a baseline for certain elements of bioengineering. It was created in the 1950s by biophysicists Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley, who went on to receive the Nobel prize in 1963 for their work on the subject. It’s a significant model with a lot of interdisciplinary importance, but what made this group interested in trying to replicate it themselves?

Top row, left to right: Christopher George, Myra Kamdar. <br>Bottom row left to right: Jas Przybylowicz, Evan Patel
Top row, left to right: Christopher George, Myra Kamdar.
Bottom row left to right: Jas Przybylowicz, Evan Patel


“The Hodgkin-Huxley model was introduced to us in a problem set by Professor Brad Sutton,” said Chris. “A simulation assignment in Simulink through MATLAB. We were all very challenged by it, and to me, it represented one of the first assignments where I began to feel that transition from biology into engineering.”


It was also the first time the group had incorporated Simulink into their work, and they were intrigued by the possibility of using that technology on the Hodgkin-Huxley model. 


“The Hodgkin-Huxley model is fundamental to understanding how cells communicate in the body and can be used to model nerves and pacemaker cells, impacting information flow, muscle contraction, and heart function,” commented professor Brad Sutton on the project. “The model has had significant impact and it is great that this team is focused on improving the understanding and availability of this model for future bioengineers.”


What started as an interest in a model introduced in class developed into a much more in-depth project, and the students involved began to develop an interest in the material outside of the classroom. 


Team members Walter Rickord (top) and Romir Singla
Team members Walker Rickord (top) and Romir Singla

“After hearing my bioengineering peers express their curiosity for the infamous Hodgkin-Huxley equations after they were introduced to them in class, I dove a little deeper and gained my own curiosity regarding the topic,” said Rutvik Sayankar. “Which has in turn brought me to joining the group as I aim to help in the R&D of the current state of the topic and going further to help create a model to represent these complex equations.” 


Chris and his team decided they were going to tackle the model themselves, with Simulink on their side. Simulink, the MATLAB-based graphical programming environment for modeling differential equations, seemed like an interesting angle to take on Hodgkin and Huxley’s work. 


“The analysis we hope to complete presents a unique, interdisciplinary opportunity to use both biological and electrical engineering approaches in evaluating circuit models for action potential generation,” said Jonathan Louis.    


It’s a team with passions ranging from backpacking and working on cars to distance running, fishing, and serving as a UIUC campus ambassador, in addition to their range of academic backgrounds. Currently, the group is hoping to get the meta-analysis of their novel approach to this well-known model published in roughly an eight to ten month timeframe. 


“We're looking at summarizing the history of the model and the directions it's taken,” said Chris.  “And then once we were published, we were hoping to approach the software side and maybe work on another simulation model, rather than only using MATLAB.”


It’s been a rewarding experience for the team thus far, with members looking forward to what their work on this project could mean for the future. 


“I enjoy working alongside other ambitious and driven individuals that share the same vision,” said Darsh Gupta. “This group allowed me to explore the model in more detail and hopefully make a difference to the world of academia.”