Tiny, implantable computers that would restore brain function lost to disease or injury is the goal of University of Washington research recently funded by a $1 million, three-year grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation.
The UW has made significant progress in neural engineering the study of communication and control between biological and machine systems. The Keck project is the next step in advancing the technology of miniature devices developed at the UW to record from and stimulate the brain, spinal cord and muscles.
The principal investigator on the Keck Foundation grant is Dr. Eberhard E. Fetz, UW professor of physiology and biophysics and a core staff researcher at the Washington National Primate Research Center. He and his colleagues have successfully deployed tiny, battery-powered implantable brain-computer interfaces called neurochips in animals.
The neurochip can record nerve cell activity in one part of the brain, process this activity and then stimulate cells in another brain region. The battery-powered device operates continuously during free behavior. When primates carry out their usual daily activities socializing, climbing, eating, and exploring their brains can learn to exploit these new resources under normal behavioral conditions.
One potential clinical application is to bridge lost biological connections. For example, the researchers have shown that monkeys can learn to bypass an anesthetic block in the nerves of the arm and to activate temporarily paralyzed muscles with activity of cortical neurons. In some ways the device acts as a volition processor, tapping into signals representing the will to move and using them to stimulate the paralyzed muscles to reach targets.
"Using an implantable computer interface to implement novel interactions between brain sites opens many fundamentally new research directions," Fetz said, "depending on the site of recording and stimulation, and how these
|Contact: Leila Gray|
University of Washington