September 18, 2015

Benchtop Testing Planned for BrainGate Sensor

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Preclinical testing is a first step toward making wireless transmission of neural signals available for use in human patients. Photograph by Mike Cohea, courtesy of Brown University.

The BrainGate Neural Interface System is an investigational assistive neurotechnology that has been under development for several years through a multi-institution collaboration. The goal is to replace or restore lost function and enhance independence for people with paralysis. An important step in the ongoing development and testing of the investigational BrainGate is creating a wireless version so that future users are not tethered to the system’s computers via cable. In recent years Brown University has developed wireless transmitter prototypes, but benchtop preclinical testing is still needed before the technology can be considered for use in a clinical trial. That testing is now beginning in collaboration with Blackrock Microsystems, Salt Lake City, the manufacturer that has licensed the Brown technology.

The work will begin with the support of a new $50,000 grant as part of stage 1 of the Conquer Paralysis Now Challenge. The nonprofit organization’s competition to cure paralysis in the next ten years will ultimately award a $10 million grand prize to the first team that can reach unprecedented improvement in every day functions of people living with chronic spinal injury.

“After years of development led by Professor Arto Nurmikko at Brown University, we have created a low-profile, high-bandwidth wireless device, but translating it to use in people requires specific testing,” said BrainGate investigator John Simeral, PhD, assistant professor of engineering (research) at Brown and research biomedical engineer at the Providence VA Medical Center (PVAMC), Rhode Island, who is the principal investigator for the new grant. “This project will support that testing as a critical step toward use by people with spinal cord injury and others with tetraplegia or locked-in syndrome.”

The initial proofs of concept resulted from the research of John Donoghue, PhD, the Henry Merritt Wriston professor of neuroscience at Brown. As an individual attempts to make arm and hand movements, BrainGate records movement-related activity from tiny electrodes in the surface of the brain and translates that activity into instantaneous commands to move a computer cursor, a prosthetic arm and hand, a wheelchair, or other assistive technology. The collaboration member institutions are Brown University; Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; PVAMC; Stanford University; and Case Western Reserve University.

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