Dec 30, 2015 10:48 PM EST
The Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) is working on an implantable device that can send signals between regions of the brain that have been disconnected due to injury. If this technological advancement is fully developed, people who have spinal cord injury, stroke or any injury/condition that cuts off movements of limbs might recover the control of their bodies.
"There's a huge unmet need, especially with an aging population of baby boomers, for developing the next generation of medical devices for helping people with progressive or traumatic neurological conditions such as stroke and spinal cord injury," CSNE director and University of Washington professor of computer science and engineering Rajesh Rao said.
University of Washington is leading this effort, while Massachusetts Institute of Technology, San Diego State University and other partners are contributing to the project. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $16 million for the next four years to support the research on brain plasticity and reanimation of paralyzed body parts. CSNE was already funded by an NSF grant in 2011 with an amount of $18.5 million. This should give a hint that the project is gaining traction as it continues to receive grants from the NSF.
The current goal is to achieve a proof-of-concept demo in human subjects within the next five years. This should lay some groundwork for clinical devices as approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The device is supposed to be a "bi-directional" implantable device that picks up signals from the brain and sends the information to the other parts of the nervous system. The dives can record and decode electrical signals generated by the brain when a person forms an intention. The device is also wireless in transmission of information.
"Our implantable devices aim to bridge such lost connections by decoding brain signals and stimulating the appropriate part of the spinal cord to enable the person to move again," he added.