Brown University begins testing of wireless brain sensor

Brown University recently announced plans for preclinical testing of a wireless transmitter prototype version of its BrainGate Neural Interface System. The work will be supported by a $50,000 grant as part of the Conquer Paralysis Now Challenge.

The BrainGate Neural Interface System is an investigational assistive neurotechnology meant to replace or restore lost function and enhance independence for people with paralysis.

“After years of development led by [Arto V. Nurmikko, PhD] at Brown University, we have created a low-profile, high-bandwidth wireless device, but translating it to use in people requires specific testing,” John Simeral, PhD, said in a press release. Simeral is assistant professor of engineering at Brown University, research biomedical engineer at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center (PVAMC) and the principal investigator for this 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,” Simeral said.

The testing will led by Leigh R. Hochberg, MD, PhD, professor of engineering at Brown and director of the VA Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology, and will be conducted in collaboration with Blackrock Microsystems, a manufacturer that has licensed the system. As part of the Conquer Paralysis Challenge, the research team will compete with other grant winners for a grand prize award of $10 million. The prize will go to the first team whose invention reaches “unprecedented improvement in everyday functions of people living with chronic spinal injury,” according to the release.

BrainGate records movement related activity from its wearer, as he or she attempts to make hand and arm movements, through the use of tiny electrodes in the surface of the brain. It then translates the activity into instantaneous commands, allowing the user to move a computer cursor, a prosthetic arm and hand, a wheelchair or other assistive technology, with their thoughts.

The research that led to the initial proofs of concept for the system was conducted by John Donoghue, PhD, the Henry Merritt Wriston Professor of Neuroscience. The collaboration member institutions are Brown University, Massachusetts General Hospital, the PVAMC, Stanford University and Case Western Reserve University.


Disclosure: The BrainGate system is an investigational device and is limited by federal law to investigational use.

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