EE's Krishna Shenoy and neurosurgeon Jaimie Henderson are co-senior authors on a clinical research paper, which demonstrated that a brain-to-computer hookup can enable people with paralysis to type via direct brain control at the highest speeds and accuracy levels reported to date.
Their paper involved three study participants with severe limb weakness — two from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease, and one from a spinal cord injury. They each had one or two baby-aspirin-sized electrode arrays placed in their brains to record signals from the motor cortex, a region controlling muscle movement. These signals were transmitted to a computer via a cable and translated by algorithms into point-and-click commands guiding a cursor to characters on an onscreen keyboard.
Behind those results lie years of efforts by an interdisciplinary team of neurosurgeons, neuroscientists and engineers who brought different scientific vantages together to solve challenges that would have stumped any single discipline. Institutional support was another key ingredient in this long-term effort aimed at ultimately helping people with paralysis affect the world around them using only their minds.
Though more work lies ahead, this ongoing research shows that new engineering and neuroscience techniques can be directly applied to human patients. The milestone is heartening for Krishna Shenoy, who has led the effort to create brain-controlled prosthetic devices since he came to Stanford in 2001. Integral to that success has been his 12-year partnership with Jaimie Henderson, which he describes as a professional marriage of engineering, science and medicine.
"When you have a clear vision, you involve yourself in as many details as possible and you work with absolute mutual respect, as coequals, it's pretty interesting what you can do over a couple decades," Krishna said.
The study's results are the culmination of a long-running collaboration between Henderson and Shenoy and a multi-institutional consortium called BrainGate. Leigh Hochberg, MD, PhD, a neurologist and neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brown University and the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology in Providence, Rhode Island, directs the pilot clinical trial of the BrainGate system and is a study co-author.
Excerpted from Stanford Medicine News Centers "Brain-computer interface advance allows fast, accurate typing by people with paralysis" and "Listening in on the brain: A 15-year odyssey".