Developed by Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems Inc, a US company based in Massachusetts, the system consists of an internal neural signal sensor and external processors that convert neural signals into an output signal under the person’s own control. The sensor consists of a tiny chip about the size of a baby aspirin, with one hundred electrode sensors each thinner than a hair that detect brain cell electrical activity. The sensor is implanted on the surface of the area of the brain responsible for movement, the primary motor cortex.
The ultimate goal of BrainGate is to create a safe, effective and unobtrusive universal operating system which will allow physically disabled people to control quickly and reliably a wide range of devices using their thoughts, including computers, aid technologies and medical devices.
A study of the technology is being carried out at the Sargent Rehabilitation Center in Warwick, Rhode Island, under an Investigational Device Exemption from the US Food and Drug Administration. In the pilotstudy, the results of which were presented at the October annual meeting of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Phoenix, Arizona, a patient who is unable to use his hands or arms due to a spinal cord injury was able to control a computer, using his thoughts and the BrainGate system.
The sensor was connected by a small wire to a pedestal which is mounted on the skull, extending through the scalp. The pedestal is in turn connected by a cable to a cart containing computers, signal processors and monitors which enable the study operators to determine how well a study participant can control their neural output.
The first participant in the study, Matthew Nagle, said he was able to control the television, using a computer cursor that he could move with his thoughts. The hope is that a patient would ultimately be able to use the BrainGate to move limbs with a muscle stimulation device.
The ongoing pilot study will enrol up to five quadriplegic people between the ages of 18 and 60 who meet the study’s selection criteria. One of these criteria is that the patient must be able to communicate verbally.
Each participant will undergo surgery in which the sensor portion of the BrainGate neural interface will be implanted on the surface of the primary motor cortex.
Researchers in the study hope to establish two things in particular, the safety of the device and an evaluation of the quality, type, and usefulness of neural output control that patients can achieve using thoughts. The study is expected to last for about 13 months for each patient, who will perform tasks with the device including attempting to control the movement of a cursor on a screen with thoughts like imagining movement of the hand or arm to move the cursor toward a specific target.
At the end of the study, each patient will undergo another operation to remove the device or may have the option to participate in future studies.
Cyberkinetics expects to announce additional preliminary results and scientific observations from the pilot study at the upcoming annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, USA.
Cyberkinetics is sponsoring the study, which is the result of research conducted by Dr John Donoghue, Chairman of Neuroscience at Brown University, as well as other researchers. The investigator for the study at the Sargent Center is Dr Jon Mukand. He notes that if the study is successful, BrainGate could potentially give paralyzed individuals an unprecedented level of independence with everyday activities such as typing, manoeuvring wheelchairs and operating other computerized systems such as environmental controls, robotics and the Internet.
For further information, contact: Barbara Morse, Cyberkinetics Inc, 100 Foxborough Boulevard, Suite 240, Foxborough, MA 02035, USA; tel: +1-508-549-9981, ext 100; fax: +1-508-549-9985; E-mail: ; Internet address: http://www.cyberkineticsinc.com; or: Dr Jon Mukand, tel: +1-401-886-6600.
Copyright 2004 Gale Group, Inc.
Copyright © 2002 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.