'Brain Machine' Could Help Paralyzed
July 12 - KGO (KGO) -- There is some encouraging scientific news from Stanford that offers hope for paralyzed people. The researchers used a monkey to learn about a faster way to process signals from the brain to the limbs.
Stanford scientists trained a monkey to perform a task but it had to wait until given a cue to do so.
Gopal Santhanam, Ph.D., Stanford researcher: "He's thinking about making a reach but he actually hasn't moved yet, so it's very similar to a paralyzed patient thinking about making movements, but he just can't make them."
Scientists studied the brain waves of the monkey during that waiting period.
Gopal Santhanam, Ph.D., Stanford researcher: "We run that through an algorithm and we decode what the endpoint of the reach is, and if we get it correct the monkey doesn't have to move."
And by focusing on the endpoint, they could process the neural signals much faster.
Krishna Schenoy, Ph.D., Asst. Professor of Electrical Engineer: "Specifically what we've been able to do is show a four time performance improvement above any other system in existence today."
Here's the technology that makes the brain-computer interface possible: this small silicon chip with 100 tiny electrodes is placed in the cerebral cortex area of the brain to pick up signals from neurons. This electrode connector is then mounted to the skull.
Researchers at Brown University used the technology on patients who were literally plugged in. But subjects had to think of moving a cursor from point A to point B. The Stanford research shows the possibility of jumping straight to B, making it much faster and more practical for patients.
Krishna Schenoy, Ph.D., Asst. Professor of Electrical Engineer: "Anything we can do to help patients as soon as possible is a wonderful thing."
Research is now focused on creating a wireless system where a processing chip is placed behind this electrode, then the signal would be transmitted out of the brain to receivers that could then slide a cursor or move a robotic arm.
Its research, funded in part by the Christopher Reeve Foundation, is a way for people with paralysis to reclaim some of the independence lost.
To read more about the research published in the journal Nature, visit www.nature.com
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