Feb 202011
 
Motor cortex

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Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have been awarded funding for two projects that will place brain-computer interfaces (BCI) in patients with spinal cord injuries to test if it is possible for them to control external devices, such as a computer cursor or a prosthetic limb, with their thoughts.

The projects build upon ongoing research conducted in epilepsy patients who had the interfaces temporarily placed on their brains and were able to move cursors and play computer games, as well as in monkeys that through interfaces guided a robotic arm to feed themselves marshmallows and turn a doorknob.

“We are now ready to begin testing BCI technology in the patients who might benefit from it the most, namely those who have lost the ability to move their upper limbs due to a spinal cord injury,” said Michael L. Boninger, M.D., director, UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, chair, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Pitt School of Medicine, and a senior scientist on both projects. “It’s particularly exciting for us to be able to test two types of interfaces within the brain.”

“By expanding our research from the laboratory to clinical settings, we hope to gain a better understanding of how to train and motivate patients who will benefit from BCI technology,” said Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, M.D., Ph.D., a UPMC neurosurgeon and assistant professor of neurological surgery and bioengineering, Pitt Schools of Medicine and Engineering, and the lead surgeon on both projects.

In one project, funded by an $800,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, a BCI based on electrocorticography (ECoG) will be placed on the motor cortex surface of a spinal cord injury patient’s brain for up to 29 days. The neural activity picked up by the BCI will be translated through a computer processor, allowing the patient to learn to control computer cursors, virtual hands, computer games and assistive devices such as a prosthetic hand or a wheelchair.

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