Current neural implants are capable of recording massive amounts of neural activity, which is then transmitted through wires to a computer. Researchers have attempted to develop wireless brain-computer interfaces to complete this action, but that requires a large amount of power. Because of this high amount of power, too much heat is generated, making the implants unsafe for patients.
Now, a new study coming out of Stanford aims to resolve this issue. Researchers at the university have been constantly working on technology that could lead to paralysis patients regaining control of their limbs. Specifically, they have been aiming toward technology that would allow these patients to control prostheses and interact with computers using their thoughts.
In order to achieve this, the team has focused on improving a brain-computer interface, which is a device that is implanted on the surface of a patient’s brain, just beneath the skull. The implant connects the human nervous system to an electronic device, which could help restore motor control to an individual who suffered a spinal cord injury or neurological condition.
Current devices record large amounts of neural activity and transmit it through wires to a computer, and when researchers try to create wireless brain-computer interfaces, that is when too much heat is generated.
The team of electrical engineers and neuroscientists, including Krishna Shenoy, PhD, and Boris Murmann, PhD, and neurosurgeon and neuroscientist Jaimie Henderson, MD, have demonstrated a possible way to achieve a wireless device that is able to gather and transmit accurate neural signals, all while using a tenth of the power required by current systems.
The suggested wireless devices would appear to be more natural than the ones with wires, and patients would have a greater range of motion.
The approach was detailed by graduate student Nir Even-Chen and postdoctoral fellow Dante Muratore, PhD in a paper published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
Isolating Neural Signals
The neuroscientists were able to identify specific neural signals which were required in order to control a prosthetic device. The device could be anything ranging from a robotic arm to a computer cursor.
The electrical engineers then created the circuitry that would lead to a wireless brain-computer interface able to process and transmit the identified neural signals. By isolating signals, less power was required, which made the devices safe to be implanted on the surface of the brain.
The team tested their approach by using collected neuronal data from three nonhuman primates and one human participant. In the clinical trial, subjects performed movement tasks like positioning a cursor on a computer screen. They then recorded measurements, and the team was able to determine that by recording a subset of action-specific brain signals, an individual’s motion could be controlled by a wireless interface.
The main separating factor between this device and the wired device is isolation, with the wired device collecting brain signals in bulk.
The team of researchers will now construct an implant based on the new approach and design.