Brain-Computer Interfaces

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Understanding ALS Disease Biology to Pursue Cell Repair and Regeneration

Brain-Computer Interfaces: Leigh Hochberg, MD, PhD

For people living with ALS – and their family members, friends, care-partners and healthcare providers – the progressive loss of the ability to speak, type on a laptop or tablet, and write are among the most difficult aspects of the disease. For people with ALS, and for other people with paralysis, the person knows exactly what they want to communicate, but neurologic disease is preventing those brain signals from reaching the muscles that enable speech or hand movement.
There is an urgent need to ensure people with ALS will never lose the ability to communicate. Led by Leigh Hochberg, MD, PhD and the extraordinary BrainGate team at Mass General, together with an unmatched multi-institutional and multidisciplinary team, we are getting closer to achieving that goal. Intracortical brain-computer interfaces (iBCIs) are harnessing the revolutions in neural engineering and machine learning/AI. By “listening” to the neuron activity associated with the intention to move or speak, BrainGate software interprets that brain activity in real time, allowing people with ALS to regain intuitive, fast control over tablet computers and conversational, computer-generated speech – simply by thinking about what they want to say or type. Not assistive technology, communication technology, all on a path to being faster and more reliable than any other available approach.
A key aspect of the BrainGate research is that it is conducted in the user’s home. After neurosurgical placement of tiny brain recording devices, clinical trial participants return home – which is where restorative neurotechnologies need to work, around the clock, every day. Ongoing research is directed toward that important goal, requiring the insights of neurologists, neuroscientists, neural engineers, computer scientists and others. The BrainGate research is not only a model for academic team science, but also a model for medical device companies currently seeking to develop intracortical brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) to help people with ALS and other forms of paralysis, by substantially reducing the investment risk for those companies and speeding their path to market.
Leigh Hochberg, MD, PhD is the Co-Director of the Center for Neurotechnology and Neurorecovery, Neurocritical Care and Stroke Services, Department of Neurology, Mass General, Professor of Engineering at Brown University, Director of the VA RR&D Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology, Providence VA Medical Center and Senior Lecturer on Neurology at Harvard Medical School.