Fibres fitted inside the BRAIN could help restore movement in stroke victims: Implants send signals to damaged areas of the nervous system

In the next decade, people who have suffered a spinal cord injury or stroke could have their mobility improved, or even restored, through a radically new implant.
Researchers have developed devices that can send signals between regions of the brain or nervous system that have been disconnected due to injury.
The devices record and decode electrical signals generated by the brain when a person forms an intention, for example, to move a hand to pick up a cup.

They have been developed at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, a University of Washington-led effort that includes researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, San Diego State University and other partners.

CSNE is working on closed-loop ‘bi-directional brain-computer interfaces’ – implants that can interpret brain signals and wirelessly transmit that information to another part of the nervous system to restore movement and promote plasticity for rehabilitation.

The devices record and decode electrical signals generated by the brain when a person forms an intention, for example, to move a hand to pick up a cup.

The devices are also able to wirelessly transmit that information, essentially creating a new artificial pathway around damaged areas of the brain or nervous system.

‘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 CSNE director and UW professor of computer science and engineering Rajesh Rao.

‘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,’ he said.

The same technology could also be used to promote plasticity for targeted rehabilitation in stroke and spinal cord injury patients – essentially reconnecting brain or spinal regions and helping the nervous system repair and rewire itself.

CSNE is additionally working on improving today’s implantable technologies, such as deep brain stimulators used to treat Parkinson’s disease and tremors.

These typically deliver electric pulses to the brain at an appropriate frequency that is adjusted by a physician to achieve the desired effect.

But this means the brain is constantly bombarded by electrical pulses even when a person is resting and the pulses aren’t needed.

This can lead to unwanted side effects and drain the implantable device’s battery, leading to more frequent replacement surgeries.

 

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