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by Duncan Graham-Rowe The latest brain-computer interfaces meet smart home technology and virtual gaming TWO friends meet in a bar in the online environment Second Life to chat about their latest tweets and favourite TV shows. Nothing unusual in that - except that both of them have Lou Gehrig's disease, otherwise known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and it has left them so severely paralysed that they can only move their eyes. These Second Lifers are just two of more than 50 severely disabled people who have been trying out a sophisticated new brain-computer interface (BCI). Second Life has been controlled using BCIs before, but only to a very rudimentary level. The new interface, developed by medical engineering company G.Tec of Schiedlberg, Austria, lets users freely explore Second Life's virtual world and control their avatar within it. It can be used to give people control over their real-world environment too: opening and closing doors, controlling the TV, lights, thermostat and intercom, answering the phone, or even publishing Twitter posts. The system was developed as part of a pan-European project called Smart Homes for All, and is the first time the latest BCI technology has been combined with smart-home technology and online gaming. It uses electroencephalograph (EEG) caps to pick up brain signals, which it translates into commands that are relayed to controllers in the building, or to navigate and communicate within Second Life and Twitter. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Canadian and U.S. researchers have been able to predict what hand movement a person is going to make by reading a scan of their brain. The scientists at the University of Western Ontario and the University of Oregon scanned the brains of nine volunteers at the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ont. They found they were able to distinguish somewhat accurately among plans to make three hand movements that were only slightly different from one another: Jody Culham and Jason Gallivan at the University of Western Ontario were the two lead authors of the study. Jody Culham and Jason Gallivan at the University of Western Ontario were the two lead authors of the study. (University of Western Ontario)"We're showing that you can decode little subtle differences in finger movements based on the goal of the movement," said Jason Gallivan, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario and the lead author of a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience this week. Previously, scientists had only been able to make similar predictions for animals with electrodes inserted in their brains. Funcational magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, is far less intrusive, said Jody Culham, a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario who is Gallivan’s supervisor and co-author. That made it possible to do such an experiment in humans. While the new discovery may bring to mind Minority Report, the 2002 movie starring Tom Cruise where criminals are caught before the crimes they commit, Gallivan said that type of scenario is a long way off. © CBC 2011
By Alyssa Danigelis A stroke is like a meteorite impact. There’s a central “core of death” surrounded by silenced neural networks. So far, no one has figured out a way to turn those neurons back on. But by adding adult stem cells to a "brain in a dish" comprised of rat neurons, researchers at the University of Florida could find a way to reboot the brain -- essentially waking up quiet circuits and regenerating the core. “We take normal neurons, simulate a stroke event, and implant adult stem cells,” said Thomas DeMarse, a research scientist at the University of Florida who is working on the transplant model with assistant professor of biomedical engineering Brandi Ormerod and PhD student Crystal Stephens. The brain in the dish, or as the scientists prefer to call it, the "“biologically relevant neural model,” is a computer chip with an array of 60 microelectrodes that measure the action potential of neurons grown on top. The microelectrode array, or MEA, records the brain cell signals so the scientists can analyze them. “The beauty of the MEA is that it doesn’t just tell you the activity of one neuron, it tells you the activity of hundreds at the same time,” DeMarse said. Using MEAs is not new -- DeMarse used one in 2004 to show that brain cells could be used to control a flight simulator -- but adding adult stem cells to the mix in vitro, that is, in an experiment outside the brain, is the new part. © 2011 Discovery Communications, LLC.
Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 15511 - Posted: 06.30.2011
By Susan Gaidos Video games can be mesmerizing, even for a rhesus monkey. Which may explain, in part, why 6-year-old Jasper has been sitting transfixed at a computer screen in a Washington University lab for nearly an hour, his gaze trained on a small red ball. A more interesting reason for Jasper’s quiet demeanor is that he is hurling the ball at a moving target using just his thoughts. Jasper is not the only monkey to control objects with his mind. At the University of Pittsburgh, a pair of macaques manipulated a thought-controlled synthetic arm to grab and eat marshmallows. The monkeys then worked the arm to turn a doorknob — no muscle power required. In another case, a monkey in North Carolina transmitted its thoughts halfway around the world to set a Japanese robot in motion. Now it’s time to let humans give it a serious try. In a series of clinical trials, scientists are preparing to take thought-controlled technologies, known as brain-computer interfaces, to those who might benefit most. The trials are a major step in realizing what many scientists say is an ambitious, but fully obtainable, goal — to restore mobility and independence to people who have lost the use of their muscles through brain or spinal cord injury. Over the next few years, paralyzed patients will attempt to learn how to maneuver virtual hands and robotic arms to reach, push, grasp or eat. As the trials progress, researchers hope to train users to perform increasingly complex movements. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2011
A woman's cat ears perk up as she passes a young man in a park, only to flatten as she brushes off the encounter. A team of Japanese inventors have come with a new device that blends the country's fascination with cuteness and its penchant for experimental high-tech -- brainwave-controlled cat ears. The fluffy headwear reads users' brain activity, meaning the ears perk up when they concentrate and then flop down again to lay flat against the head when users enter a relaxed state of mind, say its developers. The gizmo is called "Necomimi" -- a play on the Japanese words for cat and ear, but the first two syllables are also short for "neuro communication", says Neurowear, the inventor team whose brainchild it is. "We were exploring new ways of communicating and we thought it would be interesting to use brainwaves," said Neurowear's Kana Nakano. "Because the sensors must be attached to the head, we tried to come up with something cute and catchy." A promotional video shows a young woman's cat ears perk up as she bites into a doughnut and again when she passes a young man in a park, only to flatten as she apparently brushes off the missed encounter, relaxes and smiles. robotic hand © 2011 Discovery Communications, LLC.
By EMMA G. FITZSIMMONS CHICAGO — Martin Mireles says his mother was not happy with his tongue piercing: It didn’t fit his image as a former church youth leader. But as Mr. Mireles told her, it was for research. Paralyzed from a spinal cord injury since he was shot in the neck almost two decades ago, he was recently fitted with a magnetic stud that allows him to steer his wheelchair with his tongue. Now he is helping researchers at the Northwestern University School of Medicine here in a clinical trial of the technology, being financed with almost $1 million in federal stimulus funds. Mr. Mireles, 37, tested the equipment one recent afternoon by guiding a wheelchair through an obstacle course lined with trash cans. Mouth closed, he shifted the magnet to travel forward and backward, left and right. The study was one of about 200 projects selected from more than 20,000 applicants. “There was a ‘wow’ factor here,” said Naomi Kleitman, a program director at the National Institutes of Health and an expert on spinal cord injury research. “This is kind of a cool idea. The question is: Will it work well enough not to just be cool, but to be practical too?” A quarter-million Americans have severe spinal cord injuries, and experts estimate that there are about 10,000 new injuries each year. Millions more have some form of paralysis from an array of conditions, including stroke, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. © 2011 The New York Times Company
by Miguel Nicolelis ANSWER quickly: what links the internet, the stock market, democratic elections, a perfect soccer play, the big bang theory, the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel and the iPad? Most people guess that the only possible link is they are all created by humans. While this is technically correct, it doesn't credit the true creator of such macro structures and exquisite tools: the human brain. As well as the almost infinite catalogue of artificial tools and beliefs that rule most of our lives, our cherished social, political, and economic systems also blossom as by-products of the incessant electrochemical storms brewed by the brain circuits formed by billions of interconnected cellular elements. These neurons make up an organic structure so majestic and mysterious that its only true rival in complexity and power is the cosmos that hosts us all. For the past 200 years or so, neuroscientists have been obsessed with understanding how the roots of all our glory and disgrace, as individuals and as a species, emerge from waves of neuronal electrical activity that propagate through a neural ocean. Just how do they morph into what is conventionally known as thinking, the main currency of our primate brains? In the early 19th century, Franz Joseph Gall in Germany and Thomas Young in Britain pioneered the modern age of neuroscience with opposing theories of how the brain worked. Gall's phrenology proposed that brain functions were localised in particular spatial territories of the human cortex, the most superficial part of the nervous system, just beneath the skull. Gall and his disciples made a living by claiming to ascertain the key personality traits of his patients by palpating the bumps on their heads. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Helen Thomson, biomedical news editor A paralysed woman was still able to accurately control a computer cursor with her thoughts 1000 days after having a tiny electronic device implanted in her brain, say the researchers who devised the system. The achievement demonstrates the longevity of brain-machine implants. The woman, for whom the researchers use the pseudonym S3, had a brainstem stroke in the mid-1990s that caused tetraplegia - paralysis of all four limbs and the vocal cords. In 2005, researchers from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, the Providence VA Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston implanted a tiny silicon electrode array the size of a small aspirin into S3's brain to help her communicate better with the outside world. The electrode array is part of the team's BrainGate system, which includes a combination of hardware and software that directly senses the electrical signals produced by neurons in the brain which control the planning of movement. The electrode decodes these signals to allow people with paralysis to control external devices such as computers, wheelchairs and bionic limbs. In a study just published, the researchers say that in 2008 - 1000 days after implantation - S3 proved the durability of the device by performing two different "point-and-click" tasks by thinking about moving a cursor with her hand. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Rachel Ehrenberg Nerve cell tendrils readily thread their way through tiny semiconductor tubes, researchers find, forming a crisscrossed network like vines twining towards the sun. The discovery that offshoots from nascent mouse nerve cells explore the specially designed tubes could lead to tricks for studying nervous system diseases or testing the effects of potential drugs. Such a system may even bring researchers closer to brain-computer interfaces that seamlessly integrate artificial limbs or other prosthetic devices. “This is quite innovative and interesting,” says nanomaterials expert Nicholas Kotov of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “There is a great need for interfaces between electronic and neuronal tissues.” To lay the groundwork for a nerve-electronic hybrid, graduate student Minrui Yu of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and his colleagues created tubes of layered silicon and germanium, materials that could insulate electric signals sent by a nerve cell. The tubes were various sizes and shapes and big enough for a nerve cell’s extensions to crawl through but too small for the cell’s main body to get inside. When the team seeded areas outside the tubes with mouse nerve cells the cells went exploring, sending their threadlike projections into the tubes and even following the curves of helical tunnels, the researchers report in an upcoming ACS Nano. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2011
Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 15115 - Posted: 03.19.2011
Analysis by Amy Dusto For people with spinal injuries or other conditions that impair use of the arms or vocal cords -- or for the curious who just think it's cool -- the intendiX spells words based on brain waves. A skullcap along with a computer interface, the system is in development by Austrian company Guger Technologies. It was demonstrated at CeBIT, an annual worldwide digital industry event, held this year in Hanover, Germany, from March 1 to 5. To pick up brain activity, the skullcap is covered in electroencephalographic (EEG) electrodes. Unfortunately, this early model requires that the user put gel between his and her head and the EEG electrodes to function properly (though a dry version is forthcoming). The wearer stares at a computer screen, which flashes highlights over different rows in a matrix of letters and symbols set up like a keyboard on the screen. Simply by paying attention to the desired letter for a few seconds, the program can determine what the user intended to pick. According to Guger Technologies, most people become competent thought-communicators after 10 minutes of training on the system and are able to spell out five to 10 characters a minute. Designed for use by the severely handicapped in the home or with caregivers, intendiX can do more than just write out a text message. The user can also make it read the message out loud in digitized prose, print the text, or send it in email or via another electronic messaging system -- intendiX is Bluetooth-ready. The only ability needed to use the system, besides a few seconds of concentration, is eyesight. © 2011 Discovery Communications, LLC.
by Sara Reardon WASHINGTON, D.C.—Former army sergeant Glen Lehman lost his arm in Iraq. But he can still pick up small objects with fine motor control, thanks to a bionic appendage wired to his remaining nerves. “Just by believing I’m moving my phantom limb," he said, "the arm is in tune with my thoughts." Lehman showed off his new arm here yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW). His demonstration was part of a session on breaking down the barriers between mind and machine. In addition to creating better prosthetics for amputees, scientists talked about developing communication devices for locked-in patients and even creating virtual reality avatars that might someday allow people to transfer their entire consciousness into a machine. But first back to Lehman's arm. Previous arm prosthetics have relied on the remaining muscles of the arm to guess at what the amputee wants to do, which panelist Todd Kuiken of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, described as a “Morse code game.” The technique his group is developing, by contrast, uses the arm’s nerves, which appear to remain intact even 10 years after an amputation. Using this method, his advanced prosthetics can restore fine motor control down to the fingers. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By KATHERINE BOUTON Imagine, Michael Chorost proposes, that four police officers on a drug raid are connected mentally in a way that allows them to sense what their colleagues are seeing and feeling. Tony Vittorio, the captain, is in the center room of the three-room drug den. He can sense that his partner Wilson, in the room on his left, is not feeling danger or arousal and thus has encountered no one. But suddenly Vittorio feels a distant thump on his chest. Sarsen, in the room on the right, has been hit with something, possibly a bullet fired from a gun with a silencer. Vittorio glimpses a flickering image of a metallic barrel pointed at Sarsen, who is projecting overwhelming shock and alarm. By deducing how far Sarsen might have gone into the room and where the gunman is likely to be standing, Vittorio fires shots into the wall that will, at the very least, distract the gunman and allow Sarsen to shoot back. Sarsen is saved; the gunman is dead. That scene, from his new book, “World Wide Mind,” is an example of what Mr. Chorost sees as “the coming integration of humanity, machines, and the Internet.” The prediction is conceptually feasible, he tells us, something that technology does not yet permit but that breaks no known physical laws. © 2011 The New York Times Company
Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 10: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 7: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Link ID: 15004 - Posted: 02.15.2011
By Emily Singer Most of the robotic arms now in use by some amputees are of limited practicality; they have only two to three degrees of freedom, allowing the user to make a single movement at a time. And they are controlled with conscious effort, meaning the user can do little else while moving the limb. A new generation of much more sophisticated and lifelike prosthetic arms, sponsored by the Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), may be available within the next five to 10 years. Two different prototypes that move with the dexterity of a natural limb and can theoretically be controlled just as intuitively--with electrical signals recorded directly from the brain--are now beginning human tests. Initial results of one of these studies--the first tests of a paralyzed human controlling a robotic arm with multiple degrees of freedom--will be presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference in November. The new designs have about 20 degrees of independent motion, a significant leap over existing prostheses, and they can be operated via a variety of interfaces. One device, developed by DEKA Research and Development, can be consciously controlled using a system of levers in a shoe. © 2010 MIT Technology Review
by Debora MacKenzie Groups in Germany and the US have been testing electronic implants aimed at restoring vision to people with retinal dystrophy. The condition is hereditary or age-related, and causes degeneration of the photoreceptors – light-sensitive cells in the retina – leading to blindness. It affects 15 million people worldwide. Eberthart Zrenner and colleagues at the University of Tübingen in Germany have developed a microchip carrying 1500 photosensitive diodes that slides into the retina where the photoreceptors would normally be. The diodes respond to light, and when connected to an outside power source through a wire into the eye, can stimulate the nearby nerves that normally pass signals to the brain, mimicking healthy photoreceptors. The team reports that their first three volunteers could all locate bright objects. One could recognise normal objects and read large words. Nerves in the eye normally adapt to visual input and stop transmitting signals after a short time. Tiny movements of the eye overcome this by constantly projecting the image back and forth between neighbouring nerve cells so that each has time to recover and resume transmitting signals. Because the implant is inside the eye, this mechanism worked normally in the trials. Another device being tested sends images from a head-mounted camera to ocular nerves, but as the image forms outside the eye the tiny movements cannot maintain it and patients must rapidly shake their head instead. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
by David Hambling Imagine a bionic arm that plugs directly into the nervous system, so that the brain can control its motion, and the owner can feel pressure and heat through their robotic hand. This prospect has come a step closer with the development of photonic sensors that could improve connections between nerves and prosthetic limbs. Existing neural interfaces are electronic, using metal components that may be rejected by the body. Now Marc Christensen at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and colleagues are building sensors to pick up nerve signals using light instead. They employ optical fibres and polymers that are less likely than metal to trigger an immune response, and which will not corrode. The sensors are currently in the prototype stage and too big to put in the body, but smaller versions should work in biological tissue, according to the team. The sensors are based on spherical shells of a polymer that changes shape in an electric field. The shells are coupled with an optical fibre, which sends a beam of light travelling around inside them. The way that the light travels around the inside of the sphere is called a "whispering gallery mode", named after the Whispering Gallery in St Paul's Cathedral, London, where sound travels further than usual because it reflects along a concave wall. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Katharine Sanderson Artificial electronic skins that can detect the gentlest of touches have been developed by two independent US research groups. The skins could eventually be used in prosthetics, or in touch-sensitive robotic devices. Both systems detect pressure changes of less than a kilopascal, the same as everyday pressures felt by our fingers when typing or picking up a pen. This sensitivity is better than previous systems, which detected pressures of tens of kilopascals or more, or only detected static pressures so that once an object was sat on the skin, the device could not sense that it was still there. The devices, both reported in Nature Materials today, work in different ways1,2. Chemist Zhenan Bao at Stanford University, California, and her colleagues used the elastic polymer polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS)1. Bao took a piece of PDMS measuring six centimetres square with pyramid-shaped chunks cut out of it at regular intervals. When the PDMS is squashed, the pyramid-shaped holes that were previously filled with air become filled with PDMS, changing the device's capacitance, or its ability to hold an electric charge. An optical image of a fully fabricated e-skin device with nanowire active matrix circuitry. each dark square represents a single pixel.The use of pressure-sensitive rubber makes this artifical skin flexible.Ali Javey and Kuniharu Takei To make it easier to detect the changes in capacitance, Bao stuck the PDMS capacitor onto an organic transistor, which can read out the differences as a change in current. The team used a grid of transistors to track pressure changes at different points across the material. © 2010 Nature Publishing Group,
Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 14448 - Posted: 09.13.2010
By Alyssa Danigelis The thoughts are there, but there is no way to express them. For "locked in" patients, many with Lou Gehrig's disease, the only way to communicate tends to be through blinking in code. But now, words can be read directly from patients' minds by attaching microelectrode grids to the surface of the brain and learning which signals mean which words, a development that will ultimately help such patients talk again. "They're perfectly aware. They just can't get signals out of their brain to control their facial expressions. "They're the patients we'd like to help first," said University of Utah's Bradley Greger, an assistant professor of bioengineering who, with neurosurgery professor Paul House, M.D., published the study in the October issue of the Journal of Neural Engineering. Some severely-epileptic patients have the seizure-stricken parts of the brain removed. This standard procedure requires cutting the skull open and putting large, button-sized electrodes on the brain to determine just what needs removal. The electrodes are then taken off the brain. The University of Utah team worked with an epileptic patient who let them crowd together much smaller devices, called micro-electrocorticography, onto his brain prior to surgery. © 2010 Discovery Communications, LLC.
Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 14442 - Posted: 09.11.2010
By CLAUDIA DREIFUS About four years ago, John Donoghue’s son, Jacob, then 18, took his father aside and declared, “Dad, I now understand what you do — you’re ‘The Matrix’!” Dr. Donoghue, 61, is a professor of engineering and neuroscience at Brown University, studying how human brain signals could combine with modern electronics to help paralyzed people gain greater control over their environments. He’s designed a machine, the BrainGate, that uses thought to move objects. We spoke for two hours in his Brown University offices in Providence, R.I., and then again by telephone. An edited version of the two conversations follows: Q. WHAT EXACTLY IS BRAINGATE? A. It’s a way for people who’ve been paralyzed by strokes, spinal cord injuries or A.L.S. to connect their brains to the outside world. The system uses a tiny sensor that’s been implanted into the part of a person’s brain that generates movement commands. This sensor picks up brain signals, transmits them to a plug attached to the person’s scalp. The signals then go to a computer which is programmed to translate them into simple actions. Q. WHY MOVE THE SIGNALS OUT OF THE BODY? A. Because for many paralyzed people, there’s been a break between their brain and the rest of their nervous system. Their brains may be fully functional, but their thoughts don’t go anywhere. What BrainGate does is bypass the broken connection. Free of the body, the signal is directed to machines that will turn thoughts into action. Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company
by Laurie Rich, Jane Bosveld, Andrew Grant, Amy Barth The brain is a castle on a hill. Encased in bone and protected by a special layer of cells, it is shielded from infections and injuries—but also from many pharmaceuticals and even from the body’s own immune defenses. As a result, brain problems are tough to diagnose and to treat. To meet this challenge, researchers are exploring unconventional therapies, from electrodes to laser-light stimulation to mind-bending drugs. Some of these radical experiments may never pan out. But, as frequently happens in medicine, a few of today’s improbable approaches may evolve into tomorrow’s miraculous cures. 1. Man Meets Machine In a sense, cyborgs already walk among us: Nearly 200,000 deaf or near-deaf people have cochlear implants, electronic sound-processing machines that stimulate the auditory nerve and link into the brain. But even by the fanciful science fiction definition, the age of cyborgs is just around the corner. In the last decade, researchers have become increasingly skilled at detecting and interpreting brain signals. Technologies that allow people to use their thoughts to control machines—computers, speaking devices, or prosthetic limbs—are already being tested and could soon be available for widespread applications.
Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 14223 - Posted: 07.03.2010
By SANDRA BLAKESLEE On Thursday, the 12-pound, 32-inch monkey made a 200-pound, 5-foot humanoid robot walk on a treadmill using only her brain activity. She was in North Carolina, and the robot was in Japan. It was the first time that brain signals had been used to make a robot walk, said Dr. Miguel A. L. Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University whose laboratory designed and carried out the experiment. In 2003, Dr. Nicolelis’s team proved that monkeys could use their thoughts alone to control a robotic arm for reaching and grasping. These experiments, Dr. Nicolelis said, are the first steps toward a brain machine interface that might permit paralyzed people to walk by directing devices with their thoughts. Electrodes in the person’s brain would send signals to a device worn on the hip, like a cell phone or pager, that would relay those signals to a pair of braces, a kind of external skeleton, worn on the legs. “When that person thinks about walking,” he said, “walking happens.” Richard A. Andersen, an expert on such systems at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who was not involved in the experiment, said that it was “an important advance to achieve locomotion with a brain machine interface.” Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company