Friday, January 27, 2017

New Research Seeks to Overcome Paralysis and Movement Disabilities

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

Three types of technology that will eventually help people with paralysis and movement disabilities to communicate more effectively, and become more independent, are currently being developed. Summaries from Science Daily follow below:

1) A brain-sensing technology which allows typing at 12 words per minute

It does not take an infinite number of monkeys to type a passage of Shakespeare. Instead, it takes a single monkey equipped with brain-sensing technology -- and a cheat sheet.

That technology, developed by Stanford Bio-X scientists Krishna Shenoy, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, and postdoctoral fellow Paul Nuyujukian, directly reads brain signals to drive a cursor moving over a keyboard. In an experiment conducted with monkeys, the animals were able to transcribe passages from the New York Times and Hamlet at a rate of up to 12 words per minute.

Earlier versions of the technology have already been tested successfully in people with paralysis, but the typing was slow and imprecise. This latest work tests improvements to the speed and accuracy of the technology that interprets brain signals and drives the cursor.

"Our results demonstrate that this interface may have great promise for use in people," said Nuyujukian, who will join Stanford faculty as an assistant professor of bioengineering in 2017. "It enables a typing rate sufficient for a meaningful conversation."

Full article available here:

2) Monkeys 'move and feel' virtual objects using only their brains

In a first ever demonstration of a two-way interaction between a primate brain and a virtual body, two monkeys trained at the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering learned to employ brain activity alone to move an avatar hand and identify the texture of virtual objects.

"Someday in the near future, quadriplegic patients will take advantage of this technology not only to move their arms and hands and to walk again, but also to sense the texture of objects placed in their hands, or experience the nuances of the terrain on which they stroll with the help of a wearable robotic exoskeleton," said lead researcher Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center and co-director of the Duke Center for Neuroengineering.

Without moving any part of their real bodies, the monkeys used their electrical brain activity to direct the virtual hands of an avatar to the surface of virtual objects and, upon contact, were able to differentiate their textures.

Full article available here:

3) Device allows paralyzed man to swipe credit card and perform other movements

New research is enabling a quadriplegic Ohio man to regain the ability to pick up objects, stir liquids and even play video games -- using his own thoughts.

Six years ago, Ian Burkhart was paralyzed in a diving accident. Today, he participates in clinical sessions during which he can grasp and swipe a credit card or play a guitar video game with his own fingers and hand. These complex functional movements are driven by his own thoughts and a prototype medical system described in a study just published in the journal Nature.

The device, called NeuroLife, was invented at Battelle, which teamed with physicians and neuroscientists from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to develop the research approach and perform the clinical study. Ohio State doctors identified the study participant and implanted a tiny computer chip into his brain.

The pioneering participant, Ian Burkhart, is a 24-year-old quadriplegic from Dublin, Ohio, and the first person to use this technology. The electronic neural bypass for spinal cord injuries reconnects the brain directly to muscles, allowing voluntary and functional control of a paralyzed limb by using his thoughts. The device interprets thoughts and brain signals, then bypasses his injured spinal cord and connects directly to a sleeve that stimulates the muscles that control his arm and hand.

Full article available here:

Image Credit: iSkye Silverweb, with text quoted from the IBM Trainig Manual 1991

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