Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that degrades an individual's ability to move. Currently, people with ALS may use an eye-tracking system to direct cursors or a 'head mouse' that tracks the movement of the head. Both systems are fatiguing to use as neither provides the natural and intuitive control of readings taken directly from the brain. With the goal to get thought-controlled prosthetics to people with ALS, Krishna Shenoy, an Indian American electrical engineer from the Stanford University, has developed device that analyses the neuron sample and makes dozens of corrective adjustments to the estimate of the brain's electrical pattern, all in the blink of an eye.
Shenoy said, "Brain-controlled prostheses will lead to a substantial improvement in quality of life. The speed and accuracy demonstrated in this prosthesis results from years of basic neuroscience research and from combining these scientific discoveries with the principled design of mathematical control algorithms."
Shenoy and colleagues tested a brain-controlled cursor meant to operate a virtual keyboard. Shenoy said, "The thought-controlled keypad would allow a person with paralysis or ALS to run an electronic wheelchair and use a computer or tablet."
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also given the research team its nod to conduct a pilot clinical trial of their thought-controlled cursor on people with spinal cord injuries. Shenoy further added, "This is a fundamentally new approach that can be further refined and optimized to give brain-controlled prostheses greater performance, and therefore greater clinical viability. When we type or perform other precise tasks, our brains and muscles usually work together effortlessly. But when a neurological disease or spinal cord injury severs the connection between the brain and limbs, once-easy motions become difficult or impossible."
In recent years, researchers have sought to give people suffering from such conditions some restored motor function by developing thought-controlled prostheses. These devices tap into the relevant regions of the brain, bypass damaged connections and deliver thought commands to devices such as virtual keypads.
The findings appeared in Nature Communications.