The team has been focusing on improving a brain-computer interface, a device implanted beneath the skull on the surface of a patient's brain. This implant connects the human nervous system to an electronic device that might, for instance, help restore some motor control to a person with a spinal cord injury, or someone with a neurological condition like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease. The current generation of these devices record enormous amounts of neural activity, then transmit these brain signals through wires to a computer. But when researchers have tried to create wireless brain-computer interfaces to do this, it took so much power to transmit the data that the devices would generate too much heat to be safe for the patient. Now, a team led by electrical engineers and neuroscientists Krishna Shenoy, PhD, and Boris Murmann, PhD, and neurosurgeon and neuroscientist Jaimie Henderson, MD, have shown how it would be possible to create a wireless device, capable of gathering and transmitting accurate neural signals, but using a tenth of the power required by current wire-enabled systems.
The first wireless brain-computer interface (BCI) system is not only giving people with paralysis the ability to type on computer screens with their minds, but the innovation is also giving them freedom to do so anywhere. Traditional BCIs are tethered to a large transmitter with long cables, but a team from Brown University has cut the cords and replaced them with a small transmitter that sits atop the user's head. The redesigned equipment is just two inches in diameter and connects to an electrode array within the brain's motor cortex by means of the same port used by wired systems. The trials, dubbed BrainGate,' showed two men paralyzed by spinal injuries were able to type and click on a tablet just by thinking of the action, and did so with similar point-and-click accuracy and typing speeds as those with a wired system. A participant in the BrainGate clinical trial uses wireless transmitters that replace the cables normally used to transmit signals from sensors inside the brain.
Scientists at Duke University have demonstrated a wireless brain-machine interface (BMI) that allows monkeys to navigate a robotic wheelchair using their thoughts. This is the first long-term wireless BMI implant that has given high-quality signals to precisely control a wheelchair's movements in real time. "This is the first wireless brain-machine interface for whole-body locomotion," says Miguel Nicolelis, professor of neuroscience at Duke who led the work published in the journal Scientific Reports. "Even severely disabled patients who cannot move any part of their body could be placed on a wheelchair and be able to use this device for mobility." Nicolelis and his colleagues pioneered brain-machine interfaces in a 1999 study on rats.
The first wireless commands to a computer have been demonstrated in a breakthrough for people with paralysis. The system is able to transmit brain signals at "single-neuron resolution and in full broadband fidelity", say researchers at Brown University in the US. A clinical trial of the BrainGate technology involved a small transmitter that connects to a person's brain motor cortex. Trial participants with paralysis used the system to control a tablet computer, the journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering reports. The participants were able to achieve similar typing speeds and point-and-click accuracy as they could with wired systems.
Mice are extremely social animals, but researchers have programmed them to form instant social bonds with a single beam of light. Scientists at Northwestern University designed tiny, wireless brain implant that activate single neurons to force mice to socially interact with one another in real time - and when stimulation is desynchronized, socializing stops. This was done by targeting a set of neurons in a brain region related to higher order executive function, which helps facilitate relationships, causing them to increase the frequency and duration of social interactions. The device used on the mice is smaller than a human fingertip, thin and flexible, but the breakthrough is its wireless nature that allows the mice to look normal and behave in a realistic environment. Previous research using optogenetics required fiberoptic wires, which restrained mouse movements and caused them to become entangled during social interactions or in complex environments.