Brain-computer interface allows people with paralysis to control their tablets


Brain-computer interface allows people with paralysis to control their tablets

Tablets and other mobile computing devices are part of everyday life, but using them can be difficult for people with paralysis. A new BrainGate * consortium survey shows that a brain-computer interface (BCI) can allow people with paralysis to operate directly on a tablet just by thinking of making moves and clicks on the cursor.

In a study published Nov. 21 at PLOS ONE, three participants in clinical trials with tetraplegia, each using the BrainGate BCI investigational study that records neural activity directly from a small sensor placed in the motor cortex, were able to navigate through compressed programs commonly used. , including email, chat, music streaming, and video sharing applications. Participants sent messages to family members, friends, research team members and their fellow participants. They sailed the internet, checked the time and shopped online. One participant, a musician, played an excerpt from Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" on a digital piano interface.

"For years BrainGate's collaboration has been working to develop the know-how in neuroscience and neuroengineering to enable people who have lost motor skills to control external devices just by thinking of the movement of their own arm or hand," said Dr. Jaimie Henderson. , a senior author of the paper and a neurosurgeon at Stanford University. "In this study, we harnessed this knowledge to restore people's ability to control exactly the same everyday technologies they were using before their disease began. It was wonderful to see the participants express themselves or just find a song they want to hear. "

The BrainGate BCI Investigational includes an aspirin-sized infant implant that detects the signals associated with the intended movements produced in the brain's motor cortex. These signals are then decoded and routed to external devices. Researchers at BrainGate and other groups using similar technologies have shown that the device may allow people to move robotic arms or regain control of their own limbs, even though they have lost motor skills for disease or injury. This collaborative study includes scientists, engineers and physicians from the Carney Institute for Brain Science at Brown University, Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center (PVAMC), Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Stanford University.

Two of the participants in this last study had weakness or loss of movement of their arms and legs due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive disease that affects the nerves of the brain and spine that control movement. The third participant was paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury. All were enrolled in a clinical trial to evaluate the safety and feasibility of the BrainGate research system.

For this study, the BrainGate BCI neural signals were routed to a Bluetooth interface configured to function as a wireless mouse. The virtual mouse was then paired with an unmodified Google Nexus 9 tablet. Participants were then prompted to perform a set of tasks designed to see how they could navigate through various commonly used applications and move from one application to another. Participants navigated through music selections in a streaming service, searched YouTube videos, rolled through a news aggregator, and composed e-mails and chats.

The study showed that participants could make up to 22 point selections and clicks per minute while using a variety of applications. In text applications, participants were able to enter up to 30 effective characters per minute using standard email and text interfaces.

Participants reported finding the interface intuitive and fun to use, the study noted. One said, "It seemed more natural than the times I remember using a mouse." Another reported having "more control over this than I normally do."

The researchers were pleased to see how quickly participants used the tablet's interface to explore their hobbies and interests.

"It was great to see our attendees doing the chores we asked them to do, but the most rewarding and fun part of the study was when they did what they wanted – using apps they liked to shop, watch videos or just chat with friends," said lead author Dr. Paul Nuyujukian, a bioengineer at Stanford. "One of the participants told us early in the trial that one of the things she really wanted was to play again. So watching her play on a digital keyboard was fantastic. "

The fact that the tablets were fully unchanged and all pre-loaded accessibility software was turned off was an important part of the study, the researchers said.

"The assistive technologies that are available today, while important and useful, are inherently limited in speed of use, or the flexibility of the interface," said Krishna Shenoy, one of the authors of the study. and an electrical and neuroscientist at Stanford University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "This is largely due to the limited input signals that are available. With the wealth of BCI's contribution, we were able to purchase only two tablets on Amazon, activate Bluetooth, and participants could use them with our experimental BrainGate system immediately. "

The researchers say the study also has the potential to open important new lines of communication between patients with severe neurological deficits and their healthcare professionals.

"This has great potential to restore reliable, fast and rich communication for someone with blocked syndrome unable to speak," said Jose Albites Sanabria, who conducted this research as a graduate student in biomedical engineering at Brown University. "This can not only provide greater interaction with your family and friends, but can provide a channel to further describe ongoing health issues with caregivers."

As a neuroscientist and neurologist in critical care, senior author Dr. Leigh Hochberg of Brown University, Massachusetts General Hospital and Providence VA Medical Center sees tremendous potential for the BCI's restorative capabilities exemplified in this study.

"When I see someone in the intensive care unit who had a severe stroke and lost the ability to move or communicate, I wish I could say," I'm sorry this has happened, but we can restore your ability to use the technologies you were using before it happened, and you could use them again tomorrow, "Hochberg said. "And we're getting close to being able to tell someone who has been diagnosed with ALS," even as we continue to seek a cure, you will never lose the ability to communicate. "This work is a step towards these goals."

Other authors on the paper were Jad Saab, Chethan Pandarinath, Beata Jarosiewicz, Christine Blabe, Brian Franco, Stephen Mernoff, Emad Eskandar and John Simeral.

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