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Is this the beginning of bionic man?


The concept of using thought to move a robotic device, a wheelchair, a prosthetic limb, or a computer was once strictly the stuff of science fiction, but no longer. Researchers are testing a system they call the BrainGate Neural Interface System, which collects and analyses the brainwaves of individuals with pronounced physical disabilities, and turns their thoughts into actions so they can control assistive devices.

BrainGate is potentially a life-changing technology and device that gives renewed hope to people with spinal cord injury, stroke, muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or limb loss by turning their thoughts into actions, restoring independence, mobility, and communication. Eventually, it has the potential to revolutionise the way all of our brains work.

“We are entering a new age of neurotechnology. Our fundamental understanding of the nervous system, combined with advances in engineering, may help people with brain and spinal cord injuries and diseases,” said John Donoghue, the Henry Merritt Wriston Professor of Neuroscience at Brown and director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science. BrainGate is based on research and technology developed in his laboratory.

Years of advanced research by world- renowned experts at prestigious universities – including Brown, Harvard, Emory, MIT, Columbia, and the University of Utah – has resulted in the development of BrainGate.

BrainGate’s unique technology is able to simultaneously sense the electrical activity of many individual neurons. The sensor, developed by the researchers, consists of a silicon array about the size of a baby aspirin that contains one hundred electrodes, each thinner than a human hair. The array is implanted on the surface of the brain. In the BrainGate Neural Interface System, the array is implanted in the area of the brain responsible for limb movement. In other applications the array may be implanted in areas of the brain responsible for other body processes.

The system has entered phase II clinical trials at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), in close collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from MGH and Brown University.

The BrainGate2 trials will expand on previous research, honing the hardware and software that decode the brain signals used to move a cursor on a screen. This research is part of a larger effort, the goals of which include developing point-andclick capabilities on a computer screen, controlling a prosthetic limb or a robotic arm, controlling functional electrical stimulation of nerves disconnected from the brain due to paralysis, and further expanding the neuroscience underlying the field of intracortical neurotechnology. The research is focused not only on the ability to operate a computer but also to assist people with ALS, spinal cord injury and brainstem stroke to control their environment.

Beyond the current clinical trial, the ultimate goal of the BrainGate research effort is to provide a new pathway for brain signals to control external devices such as computers or even one’s own limbs that have been “disconnected” from the brain due to paralysis or limb loss.  


ate of upload: 17th Feb 2011


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