Researchers from the Centre for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering at Washington University have just received an incredible grant to produce what could be a game-changer for neurological development.
The team has been working on a “bidirectional brain-computer” that could repair gaps between the brain and spinal cord, caused by injury or a stroke.
Initial plans would see a miniature implant designed with the ability to transfer ‘detection’ to ‘movement’. For example, when paralysis occurs, the patient’s brain is still firing intentions to move, but the frustration occurs when the messages are unable to be delivered to the correct part of the body.
The implant will attempt to change this, bridging the gap between brain signals that hinder the movement process.
“When Christopher Reeve sustained a spinal cord injury due to a fall from his horse, his brain circuits were still intact and able to form the intention to move, but unfortunately the injury prevented that intention from being conveyed to the spinal cord,” said Rajesh Rao, director of the Centre for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) at the University of Washington.
“Our implantable devices aim to bridge such lost connections by decoding brain signals and stimulating the appropriate part of the spinal cord to enable the person to move again.”
Funding for the implant will roll out over the next four years with initial demonstrations being suggested for 2021.
Researches are hoping that the design, once mastered, will also have the ability to repair and rewire damaged regions of the brain.
“There’s a huge unmet need, especially with an ageing population of baby boomers, for developing the next generation of medical devices for helping people with progressive or traumatic neurological conditions such as stroke and spinal cord injury,” says Rao.
This next generation technology will make advancements on current electrical brain implants – which currently have unwanted side effects. Instead of providing a constant barrage of electrical pulses, the CSNE implant will aim to provide ‘power’ only when needed.
“It’s a very targeted rehabilitation approach, as opposed to drugs or physical therapy,” Rao told the Seattle Times. “It would radically alter the way we might help people for stroke or spinal-cord injury.”