He explained that a second application is to promote neural plasticity, which could strengthen connections and allow some of the brain's functions to be rescued when impaired. This happens naturally when people recover the ability to move or speak again after a stroke or brain injury. The bidirectional brain computer interface could facilitate this recovery and exploit the brain's innate talent for re-organizing itself as it heals.
"We expect that the recurrent type of brain computer interface we are trying to develop," he added, "will eventually have numerous clinical applications for bridging damaged biological pathways and strengthening weak neural connections." For example, signals from the motor-control regions of the brain can be used to stimulate parts of the spinal cord to evoke coordinated movements. This would create connections that could replace lost pathways between the brain and spinal cord, a loss that occurs with strokes and spinal cord injuries.
Many labs around the world are working on brain-computer interfaces that convert neural activity to control of external devices such as prosthetic limbs or computer cursors. What makes the recently funded project unusual is that its scientists are developing a recurrent implantable device that would interact bidirectionally with the brain. By operating autonomously and continuously, without the need for connection to external instrumentation, it would facilitate long-term behavioral adaptation and plasticity.
The proposed research plans to develop this new paradigm to promote restoration of brain, spine, and muscle function. The work could eventually lead to miniaturized electrical and biological interfaces that operate around the clock on a small amount of power while the wearer goes about his or her usual activities, according to Fetz. He added that, if successful, this implantable technology would advance the ability of subjec
|Contact: Leila Gray|
University of Washington