Researchers at the University of Florida (UF) have developed chips which someday might be inserted in the brains of people affected by epilepsy or who have lost a limb. These neuroprosthetic chips 'can interpret signals in the brain and stimulate neurons to perform correctly.' The University claims this is the future of medicine. This is maybe a little bit extreme. However, the researchers are currently studying these chips with rats and hope to have a prototype ready within 4 years that could be tested on humans. But read more...
This research work has been led by Justin Sanchez, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Florida and director of the Neuroprosthetics Research Group (NRG). You can see on the left a picture of the electrodes that he plans to put in his neuroprosthetic chip (Credit:NRG). Here are two links to a larger version of this picture and to other ones coming from his lab.
Here are some quotes from Sanchez. "We really feel like if we can do this, we’ll have the technology to offer new options for patients. There’s kind of a revolution going on right now in the neurosciences and biomedical engineering. People are trying to take engineering approaches for directly interfacing with the brain. The hope is we can cure more immediately a variety of diseases."
Now, here are more technical details about this brain-computer interface. "The chip UF researchers are seeking to develop would be implanted directly into the brain tissue, where it could gather data from signals, decode them and stimulate the brain in a self-contained package without wires. In the interim, UF researchers are studying implantable devices in rats and are evaluating an intermediate form of the technology -- placing electrodes on the surface of the brain -- in people."
The researchers add that they "have developed new techniques using surface electrodes to access signals almost as precisely as they could with sensors implanted in the brain. Developing these techniques is a big step forward in understanding how to best decode a patient's intent from their brain waves and should have broad implications for delivering therapy, Sanchez said.
This research work has been published in May 2007 in the Journal of Neuroscience Methods under the name "Extraction and localization of mesoscopic motor control signals for human ECoG neuroprosthetics." Here is a link to the abstract. Additionally, here is another link to a damaged PDF version of the article (PDF format, 19 pages, 5.36 MB). Only the beginning is viewable with my version of Adobe Acrobat Reader, but you might me luckier than me.
I'm sure that these future chips will be good news for some of you, but I sure hope the technology will be wisely used.
Sources: University of Florida News, July 24, 2007; and various websites
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