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BrainGate: Neural Interfaces Toward the Restoration of Communication and Mobility

Leigh Hochberg, MD, PhD

May 23, 2011
33 minutes
Leigh Hochberg


For people with paralysis resulting from cervical spinal cord injury, brainstem stroke, neuromuscular disease including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and other neurologic disorders, currently available assistive technologies are inadequate. Brainstem stroke or advanced ALS may leave people in a locked-in state of being awake and alert but unable to move or communicate. Through clinical translation based on decades of fundamental neuroscience  research, intracortically-based neural interfaces are poised to revolutionize our ability to restore lost function.  Neurotechnologies that record the individual and simultaneous activities of dozens to hundreds of cortical neurons have yielded new understandings of cortical function in movement, cognition, vision, and memory. This preclinical research, generally performed with healthy, neurologically intact non-human primates, has demonstrated direct neural control of virtual and physical devices. Recently, this exciting research has been translated into an  investigational device and pilot clinical trials of an intracortically-based neural interface system (BrainGate, seeking to determine the feasibility of persons with tetraplegia controlling a computer cursor or other devices simply by imagining movement of their own hand. Methods for decoding brain signals are being tested with the hope of not only restoring communication, but also providing an intuitive control signal for the reanimation of paralyzed limbs, or the control of advanced prosthetics for people with limb loss. In related research, this first glimpse into the activities of dozens of individual cortical neurons in humans is providing new insights into epilepsy, with hopes for creating novel diagnostic and therapeutic technologies. Fully implanted, full-bandwidth,  telemetrically-enabled intracortical recording systems are also being developed to provide not only powerful restorative neurotechnologies, but also new approaches to understanding the human brain.

Leigh Hochberg is Associate Professor of Engineering in the Division of Engineering at Brown University.