Posted on Nov 25, 2018, 8 p.m.
Using tablets and other mobile computing devices is difficult for those with paralysis. Brain computer interfaces may enable those with paralysis to directly operate a tablet just by thinking about it, as published in PLOS ONE.
In clinical trial three participants with tetraplegia were able to navigate through commonly used programs such as email, chat, music and video sharing apps using the investigational BrainGate BCI that records neural activity directly from a sensor placed in the motor cortex.
The BrainGate collaboration has been working to develop the neuroengineering and neuroscience to enable those who have lost motor abilities to control devices just by thinking about movement of their own arm/hand. This study harnessed the know how to restore the ability to control everyday technology to those the way they were before onset of their illness.
The investigational BCI involves a pea sized implant that detects signals associated with intended movements produced by the brain’s motor cortex, which are decoded and routed to external devices. Similar technologies are being used to enable subjects to move robotic arms or regain control of their limbs after having lost motor abilities from injury or illness.
This work is in collaboration with physicians, engineers, and scientist from Brown University, the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Stanford University, and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Two participants had weakness or loss of movement of arms and legs due to ALS; the third was paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury. Neural signals from the BCI were routed to a Bluetooth interface configured to work like a wireless mouse, which was paired to an off the shelf unmodified Google Nexus 9 tablet. During testing participants were asked to perform a set of tasks designed to test how well they could navigate within a variety of common apps, and move from app to app.
Participants were able to make up to 22 point and click selections per minute while using a variety of apps; during text apps they were able to type up to 30 effective characters per minute using standard email and text interfaces; participants reported finding the interface intuitive and fun to use.
This study has potential to open new lines of communication between patients with serves neurological deficits and health care providers, and restoring communication for one with locked in syndrome who is unable to speak to provide a conduit for more interaction with family, friends, and describing ongoing health issues with caregivers.
The team is working hard to create this technology which in the future may also be used to provide restored ability to those who have had an acute stroke and lost all ability to move or communicate, this work is a step towards those goals.
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