A team of scientists from The Royal Melbourne Hospital, the University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health have devised and tested a brand new device which aims to help paralysed people to get back on their feet. This new brain-machine interface has been designed to control an exoskeleton with just power of thought, and is implanted within a blood vessel in the brain via a stent-based electrode. Once implanted in the brain, it can record the neural activity that has been previously shown to move limbs through an exoskeleton, or by controlling bionic limbs.
The device itself is very small, around the size of a small paperclip, but capable of recording high quality signals from the brain’s motor cortex. Furthermore, this revolutionary device can implanted into a blood vessel using a simple day procedure, meaning that there’s no need for invasive and high-risk open brain surgery.
Returning function and mobility to people
The researchers hope that this device will enable them to return function and mobility to people who are suffering from complete paralysis. The device is inserted into the brain using stent technology, and then expands and attaches itself to the wall of a vein. Once attached it records the patient’s brain activity. The relevant neural signals are then extracted and converted into electrical commands which will move the patient’s limbs via an exoskeleton. The signals can also be used to control prosthetic limbs, wheelchair or computers.
Currently, manual manipulation of a joystick has been the only way to control an exoskeleton. This new device is the first of its kind to enable direct thought control. Furthermore, the implementation of this kind of device is considered to be safe for long-term use, with the quality of the brain activity recordings improving as the device was incorporated into the tissue of the blood vessel.
The device is scheduled to be used in the first human trial, which is due to take place next year at The Royal Melbourne Hospital. It’s hoped that during these trials, the researchers will be able to attain direct brain control of an exoskeleton for three of the participants, and thus return their mobility and independence.
The findings from this research were published online on February 8th 2016 in Nature Biotechnology.
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