GOOD

New Technology Could Help Paralyzed People Turn Thought into Action

New developments in thought-relaying research help give movement back to the paralytic community.

Cathy Hutchinson demonstrates thought-relaying technology that allows her to take a sip of coffee

Thought is many things—a jumble of ideas, feelings, and words—but in our daily lives, its primary purpose is to relay neural information to move our bodies through space. For people living with paralysis, that particular purpose is lost. But as a team of neuroscientists, physicians, and engineers working in the multi-institutional research collaboration BrainGate (now known as BrainGate2) has discovered, when these patients think about or imagine moving, their brains still fire in the same way. By relaying this neuroactivity to a computer program designed to interpret it, patients are able to alter and move the world around them with their minds.


Initially, the team focused on overcoming neural disconnects in order to translate thought into movement. In early trials, patients had a tiny sensor about the size of a baby aspirin implanted in their motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls body movement. Instead of neural activity firing muscles as it once did, through communication between the implanted sensor and a computer that decoded neural activity, patients could mentally control a computer cursor to open emails or play a simple video game. As the technology evolved, patients began to control more complex movements, like guiding a prosthetic robotic arm.

By 2012, BrainGate had appeared in Nature demonstrating how Cathy Hutchinson—a tetraplegic patient who had been unable to move her arms or legs for 15 years—mentally steered a robotic arm toward a bottle, lifted it to her lips, and drank some coffee from a straw.

That sort of complex thought control over the physical world was a monumental landmark for the team, though the accomplishment wasn’t without its shortcomings. (The robotic arm is clunky and the sensor must be connected by wire to a computer, making it all still very tethered to the lab). As described by BrainGate2 trial director Leigh R. Hochberg, M.D., PhD, from Brown University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the true dream for the technology is reconnecting a nervous system within the body in order to give someone who has suffered a spinal cord injury renewed control over their own limbs without burdensome wires looping from head to computer to prosthesis.

A scale view of the brain sensor that translates human thought into robotic movement

Dr. Robert Kirsch is chair of Case Western’s biomedical engineering department and executive director of the VA Center for Excellence in Functional Electrical Stimulation. He’s also part of a Cleveland-based consortium on functional electrical stimulation (FES), members of which have developed brain-computer interfaces that send electrical impulses to electrodes implanted in the arm of a patient, in turn stimulating muscles that make it possible to raise a hand or grasp a cup.

While BrainGate2 developed the software to interpret thoughts of movement into action more than a decade ago, researchers in Cleveland are attracting notice for their work restoring movement to paralyzed individuals using FES directly implanted into the body. But they haven’t yet been able to help people with profound paralysis, who have difficulty giving commands to their FES systems.

The ultimate goal in Cleveland is to bridge these two approaches. It will mean both better understanding brain-recording technology and better decoding participants’ intent as they think through moving a virtual arm to brush their teeth, for example. Then it will be a matter of translating these thoughts into the FES system so that patients can again use their arms and hands for simple tasks, just by thinking about them.

“When we ask patients with tetraplegia their number one priority, they tell us they want to rub their nose and eyes,” said Kirsch in a statement. “It’s the simple things they can’t do. They rely on caregivers for everything, and these technologies could restore some independence.”

Articles
via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet