Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) are set to be placed in patients with spinal cord injuries by University of Pittsburgh researchers as they seek to test if it is possible for them to control external devices, such as a prosthetic limb, with their thoughts.
"We are now ready to begin testing BCI technology in the patients who might benefit from it the most, namely those who have lost the ability to move their upper limbs due to a spinal cord injury," said Michael L. Boninger.
For the project, a BCI based on electrocorticography (ECoG) placed on the spinal cord injury will pick up neural activity and translate it through a computer processor, allowing the patient to learn to control computer cursors, virtual hands, computer games and assistive devices such as a prosthetic hand or a wheelchair.
The second project will further develop technology tested in monkeys by Andrew Schwartz.
"Our animal studies have shown that we can interpret the messages the brain sends to make a simple robotic arm reach for an object and turn a mechanical wrist," Schwartz said.
"The next step is to see not only if we can make these techniques work for people, but also if we can make the movements more complex."
In future research efforts, the technology may be enhanced with an innovative telemetry system that would allow wireless control of a prosthetic arm, as well as a sensory component.
"Our ultimate aim is to develop technologies that can give patients with physical disabilities control of assistive devices that will help restore their independence," Boninger said.