Development of a Brain-Computer-Spinal Interface

These three investigators are using their ADI funding to develop a cutting-edge system that blends technology, neuroscience and computation to reanimate hand and arm movements in patients with spinal cord injuries. The project will result in an application that will improve the lives of patients, and also answer basic questions about neural signaling and engineering, which will be foundational for subsequent innovations and applications.

There are currently no effective treatments for a chronically injured spinal cord, and hand and arm function is the highest treatment priority for individuals in this situation. The new system will record a patient’s intent to move a hand and arm via electrodes in the brain, then decode the user intention using an implanted computer and exchanging data with an external control unit. Finally, it will deliver real-time stimulation to the spinal cord to re-animate paralyzed limbs.

Utilizing new technology and techniques, the proposed system overcomes several common barriers, such as muscle fatigue, risk of infection and potentially the requirement to recalibrate algorithms used to extract intention from recordings in the brain.

Affiliated Investigators

Adrienne Fairhall, Ph.D.

University of Washington

Adrienne Fairhall is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and adjunct in the Departments of Physics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Washington. She obtained her Honors degree in theoretical physics from the Australian National University and a PhD in statistical physics from the Weizmann Institute of Science. She received her postdoctoral training at NEC Research Institute with Bill Bialek and at Princeton University with Michael J. Berry II. She is the director of the Computational Neuroscience Program at UW and, with Prof. Tom Daniel, co-directs the UW Institute for Neuroengineering. She has directed the MBL course, Methods in Computational Neuroscience. Her work focuses on dynamic neural computation, with a particular interest in the interplay between cellular and circuit dynamics and coding.

Chet Moritz, Ph.D.

University of Washington

Chet Moritz is an Assistant Professor in the departments of Rehabilitation Medicine and Physiology & Biophysics at the University of Washington, Seattle. He directs a research team developing novel treatments for paralysis following injury to the brain and spinal cord. Their goal is to interface devices with the central nervous system in order to improve function for individuals with spinal cord injury, stroke and cerebral palsy. They have demonstrated improved hand and arm function when electrodes placed within the brain are used to extract the intention to move, and these signals are relayed to stimulating electrodes to activate paralyzed muscles.  Recent work focuses on stimulating within the spinal cord to restore movement and improve recovery after injury. Chet received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, studying the biomechanics of human movement. He then completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Colorado investigating the neural control of precision hand movement. A second post-doc at the University of Washington began his interest in brain-computer interfaces and neuroprosthetic technology to treat paralysis. He is currently a testbed leader in the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, and NSF Engineering Research Center, and mentors students in the Graduate Program in Neurobiology and Behavior.

Joshua Smith, Ph.D.

University of Washington

Joshua R. Smith is an Associate Professor in the departments of Computer Science and Engineering and Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle, where he leads the Sensor Systems research group. His group develops techniques for wirelessly powering and communicating with embedded sensor-actuator systems.  The research has application in areas including biomedical electronics, robotics, and ubiquitous computing.  He is the thrust leader for Communications and Interface in the NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, and the theme leader for Low Power Sensing and Communication in the Intel Science and Technology Center for Pervasive Computing.  He co-invented an electric field sensing system for suppressing unsafe airbag firing that is included in every Honda car. He is the editor of a book entitled “Wirelessly powered sensor systems and computational RFID” (Springer, 2013).  He received B.A. degrees in computer science and philosophy from Williams College, the M.A. degree in physics from Cambridge University, and the Ph.D. and S.M. degrees from the MIT Media Lab’s Physics and Media group.