Medical researchers have created a new minimally invasive brain-machine interface, giving people with spinal cord injuries new hope to walk again with the power of thought.
The device, the size of a small paperclip, is implanted into a blood vessel next to the brain and can read electrical signals from the motor cortex, the brain's control center. These signals can then be transmitted to an exoskeleton or wheelchair to give paraplegic patients greater mobility.
Users will need to learn how to communicate with their machinery, but over time it is thought it will become second nature. The first human trials are slated for 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.
Results, published in “Nature Biotechnology,” show the device is capable of recording high-quality signals emitted from the brain's motor cortex without the need for open brain surgery.
"We have been able to create the world's only minimally invasive device that is implanted into a blood vessel in the brain via a simple day procedure, avoiding the need for high risk open brain surgery,” said Dr. Thomas Oxley, principal author and neurologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and research fellow at the Florey Institute of Neurosciences and the University of Melbourne. "Our vision, through this device, is to return function and mobility to patients with complete paralysis by recording brain activity and converting the acquired signals into electrical commands, which in turn would lead to movement of the limbs through a mobility assist device like an exoskeleton. In essence this a bionic spinal cord."