Severe spinal cord injury disrupts communication between your brain and limbs, leading to paralysis and an inability to feel. Importantly, technologies are now being developed to reconnect the brain back to the body, reverse paralysis, and even restore the sense of touch following a severe spinal cord injury. At the Battelle Memorial Institute, we have recently developed a brain-computer interface (BCI) that can simultaneously restore movement and the sense of touch. The BCI essentially consists of 3 components: 1) an interface implanted on the outer layer of the brain that records electrical brain activity / ‘thoughts’; 2) a computer that leverages machine learning to detect specific ‘thoughts’ in real-time (e.g., I want to grab that mug); and 3) a device or devices that translate a ‘thought’ into an action (e.g., stimulation of arm muscles to move the hand and grab a mug). In our group’s recent BCI work, we have now shown the ability to also restore the sense of touch in a human participant with a severe spinal cord injury. The BCI accomplishes this by detecting touch that the participant cannot feel, and boosts it into conscious perception using artificial sensory feedback. The presentation will also cover BCI technology at large, new algorithms for brain activity decoding, and future brain interfaces that may not require surgery.
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