Neuroscientists and engineers at UCSF and UC Berkeley have joined forces to help pioneer a new frontier of brain repair the development of devices that would allow patients with such conditions as stroke, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury and Lou Gehrig's disease to control prosthetics through thoughts alone.
Under the newly launched Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses (CNEP), the investigators are working to develop neural prostheses that transmit communication signals from the brain directly to robotic arms, legs, and computer cursors, circumventing damaged or missing neural circuits in people suffering from disabling conditions.
The devices being developed at CNEP, based at both UC campuses, are made up of an array of electrodes and circuitry designed to encode a person's thoughts and intentions for movement. The electrodes are implanted in the healthy neural circuits in areas above the spinal cord or brain. They pick up the brain's signals, decode them in real time and transmit them to the neural prostheses.
"Very few medical options exist to restore function after catastrophic neurologic injury," said CNEP co-director Edward Chang, MD, UCSF assistant professor of neurological surgery, physiology, and a member of the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience. "We want to leverage new engineering advances and collaborations to actually rehabilitate lost sensory, motor and cognitive function."
"Our approach exploits the power of cortical plasticity and biofeedback, combined with smart machine learning algorithms, to let the brain learn to control the machine," said CNEP co-director Jose Carmena, PhD, UC Berkeley assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, and a member of the Program in Cognitive Science, and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.
Building on insights they have made in awake-brain surgery patients and in experimental animal models, the investigators
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University of California - San Francisco