For decades, technologists have been trying to get brains to interface with computer keyboards or robot arms, to get meat to commune with silicon.
On [October 28], a team of scientists and engineers showed results from a promising new approach. It involves mounting electrodes on an expandable, springy tube called a stent and threading it through a blood vessel that leads to the brain. In tests on two people, the researchers literally went for the jugular, running a stent-tipped wire up that vein in the throat and then into a vessel near the brain’s primary motor cortex, where they popped the spring.
The electrodes snuggled into the vessel wall and started sensing when the people’s brains signaled their intention to move—and sent those signals wirelessly to a computer, via an infrared transmitter surgically inserted in the subjects’ chests. In an article published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery, the Australian and US researchers describe how two people with paralysis due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) used such a device to send texts and fool around online by brain-control alone.
“Self-expanding stent technology has been well demonstrated in both cardiac and neurological applications to treat other disease. We just use that feature and put electrodes on top of the stent,” says [interventional neurologist] Thomas Oxley.