BCI neurotech

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How much effort goes into picking up a spoon? The planning and anticipation of which hand to use, where to place the hand, when to open and close the fingers, and how much weight to anticipate is complex and requires much coordination of the nervous and musculoskeletal systems.

In a normally functioning nervous system, movement of the extremities occurs when electrical impulses from the brain trigger a response which is sent to muscles. The central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) passes along electrical signals to the peripheral nervous system, and the nerves in the peripheral nervous system respond by communicating with their corresponding muscles.

When a person has a neurological injury causing paralysis, the signals between the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system are interrupted. Suddenly, simple every day tasks become complicated. An injury such as a fall causing quadriplegia can leave a person struggling to figure out how to move around and perform previously effortless everyday tasks such as eating and getting dressed. The aspiration with medical technology, then, is to make the transition from injury to adjustment as smooth as possible.

Neuroprosthetics are medical devices intended to assist with injuries to the nervous system. In recent years, there has been much growth with this technology using brain-computer interface (BCI), robotics, and exoskeleton technology. The challenge with neurological injuries, however, is that it is very difficult to replicate the intricate and precise workings of the brain and nervous system.

The team from BrainGate recently published a study following a quadriplegic subject in which they ultimately allowed him to use his brain to successfully control the movement in his arms to be able to feed himself. This amazing coordination of technology was achieved by implanting electrodes into his brain which picked up electrical signals and transfer these signals to Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES).

In this study, the electrodes implanted in the motor cortex picked up the electrical signals as he planned to use his upper extremities. The BrainGate system is able to decipher the signals from the brain activity and transfer it to the FES system through electrical pulses. These electrical pulses stimulated the muscles in his arm, creating the desired movement which the participant had planned for. Specifically, the man was able to feed himself using his hand for the first time in 8 years.

Still an investigational device, the BrainGate system is so promising in providing independence and versatility of movement, and the team is now working with the Harvard Wyss Center. The hope is that someday individuals will be able to implement neurotechnology such as this as soon as possible after injury, allowing for adjustment before the deleterious effects of immobility set in.

Watch the video below for more insight into this amazing work:

 

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Pneumonia is a potentially fatal infection of the lungs, causing them to accumulate fluid in the air sacs. Especially dangerous for the very young, old, and immunocompromised, it must be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible. Currently, the gold standard for diagnosis is a chest x-ray, which is not only inconvenient and costly, but also exposes an individual to radiation.

A staple physician accessory has always been the stethoscope, a tool for amplifying sound when listening to the internal sounds of a patient. When a doctor is listening to your heart or lungs, this requires a combination of skill with placement and auditory detection to differentiate normal and abnormal sounds. This alone is not enough to diagnose a lung infection such as pneumonia, and thus a suspected diagnosis must be confirmed with an x-ray.

A new instrument looks to improve the accuracy and ease of diagnosing pneumonia while providing an inexpensive and convenient alternative to chest x-rays. Tabla works by streamlining a series of simple steps to detect possible lung infections. A provider places the device over a patient’s sternum, and then continues to move the stethoscope around known areas of the lung while a wireless app collects diagnostic data.

As medical instruments become digitized for accuracy, interpretation of patient data and output is becoming more standardized. Tabla is a brilliant device which not only streamlines the diagnostics process for lung infections, but eases the burden of cost and minimizes exposure to radiation in the treatment of pneumonia.

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Those with spinal cord injuries (SCI’s) know that medicine still has a long way toward a successful solution for their injury.  Spinal cord injuries often occur as a result of trauma, such as a fall or gunshot wound. The initial physical compression and loss of blood supply to the spinal cord, followed by secondary edema and swelling cause a death of the spinal nerves which control our movement. In short, this type of injury usually takes away a person’s ability to walk and stand on their own.

SCI’s are normally classified in ASIA grades from complete (A) to normal (E), with incomplete injuries in between. Complete injuries involved complete loss of movement and sensation below the level of injury, while incomplete injuries maintain some preservation of sensation or motor control. Unfortunately, the rate of spontaneous recovery for those with complete injuries is low, while incomplete injuries have a slightly better success rate of recovery.

One project working toward a solution for spinal cord injuries by combining technology and rehabilitation is the Walk Again Project. Working toward a protocol for SCI recovery, this group has recently published research combining virtual reality and robotic assistance with variable gait training. And, it has shown promise of providing some recovery even for paralyzed individuals with complete SCI’s.

In the publication, the project demonstrates a partial return of neurological function in complete SCI’s by combining several methods of treatment. As the person controlled movement via a robotic exoskeleton with their brain using virtual reality for guidance, they also received some physical feedback from their environment. This physical feedback was applied to areas such as their feet or forearms in response to certain movements.

The results of this involved, year-long training are novel and incredible. People with previous complete loss of muscle and sensory function were able to regain some motor control, sensation, and proprioception after training. This is a novel publication by the length of the study and methods of guidance which lead those with SCI’s back toward recovery. The combination of brain machine interface, robotics, and rehabilitation provides a groundwork for future treatment options.

The effectiveness of this training may partly be explained by the idea that by forcing the body to walk and waking up the part of the brain which controls movement, the motor cortex, motor function is partially restored. Additionally, the physical movement may activate CPG’s (central pattern generators) in the spinal cord, which generate rhythmic movement. There may still be a long way to go toward medicine in SCI treatment, but this project provides solutions and hope through combined methods. Watch the video below for more insight into this amazing project:

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One of the great challenges in biotechnology is interfacing synthetic materials with biological ones. Our bodies are designed with an extremely complex network of tissue, vascular, and neural structures to protect us and alarm us if there is something potentially dangerous to our system. If we sit for too long, for example, we feel discomfort and shift positions instinctively. If something is pressing against our leg and threatens to disrupt normal blood circulation, we perceive this threat with pain and pressure and respond accordingly.

Amputees and prosthetists have long been facing the issue of how to interface the residual limb with a prosthetic socket. Fitting for a prosthesis introduces a synthetic limb component to a biological one, and an improperly fitted socket can cause pain, pressure sores, and expose a residual limb to infection and tissue damage. And while there has been much improvement from the crude iron prosthetics that amputees once had to endure, there is still much room to improve to make the interface closer to a natural one.

One group at MIT has sought to address this disparity by developing a variable impedance prosthetic (VIPr) socket. Using MRI imaging and surface scanning techniques, researchers were able to find the tissue depth and where the socket was most likely to place pressure on the irregular bony areas of the residual limb. A socket was then 3D printed using this data to apply the least amount of pressure when fitted to the amputee.

After testing this socket on a below knee amputee, it was found that there was a 7-21% decrease in pressure on various bony areas of the leg compared to a regular socket during walking. While there is still no perfect socket or prosthetic interface for amputees, this is a step in the right direction to protect valuable and vulnerable human tissue.

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Regenerative medicine using biotherapy and bioprinting is providing much hope for previously irreversible conditions such as burns, muscle damage, and cancer. Cells and cellular environments are extremely difficult to reproduce once they are damaged, and much of regenerative medicine focuses on how to repair what our bodies originally made so easily.  3D cell production, versus 2D cell production, mimics the organic environment of our bodies to produce cells. In biotherapy, living organisms are used as the starter in this process.

The complexity in the specificity of our cells is part of why it is so difficult to reverse cell damage. Thus, stem cells are valuable biological material due to their ability to differentiate into any type of cell based on their environment and genetic factors. A stem cell starts out as a blank slate, and by receiving environmental and genetic signals, can become virtually anything in the human body, from a kidney to a blood cell to a muscle in the leg.

Placental stem cells are organically derived and the natural byproduct during a birth. Instead of being discarded, they can provide a very important product for placental cell therapy, which helps direct cells toward regeneration and promotes healing. In biotherapy, these placental stem cells can be very valuable for the cell production process.

Pluristem, a company quickly gaining international presence, produces 3D cultured placental stem cell therapies for various conditions. The company uses a 3D platform to produce their line of PLX products, mimicking the environment of the human body for cell production. This cell therapy is developed to provide cell therapy which is easy to use and does not require genetic or tissue matching. Once the therapy is administered, it promotes the body to heal itself in the target area.

Pluristem products provided regenerative therapy for a variety previously potentially irreversible conditions. Among these is acute radiation syndrome (ARS), which involves irreversible damage to organs and bone marrrow from radiation exposure. Pluristem also aims to provide therapy for vascular conditions such as critical limb ischemia, intermittent claudication, and pulmonary arterial hypertension, all which are dangerous and can lead to decreased life span or surgery.

Pluristem is currently in its clinical trial phase, with collaborations with several universities and industry partners, including the NIH.

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Anyone that follows robotics, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing has likely at least brainstormed a project of their own, eyeing the possibility that one day we may provide a contribution to this world. Innovative devices, however, require a solid technical foundation to be functional, and at the source of every new robotic device and artificial intelligence machine is the platform on which it runs. While we are accustomed to seeing the outcome of a project, the founders at krtkl have developed a palm-sized computer that is an all-in-one embedded platform to support the inventive process.

With intelligent connected systems such as drones, self-guided robots, 3D printers, and artificial vision in mind, krtkl’s snickerdoodle provides a springboard for creation at a price of only $65. Included in the hardware set is support for open-source software, built-in Bluetooth, WiFi, and a mobile app to support the development process. All of the technical components are outlined on the site, including extra components which are available for more processing power and other options.  Using an Android or iOS device, you can connect to snickerdoodle’s WiFi immediately to begin working on a project.

The implications of a small, integrated and portable computer designed for robotics and other intelligent systems are promising, realistic, and positive.The exciting aspect of every new project is the notion that an innovative idea has come to fruition, and something has been created which tests the limits of what we know as possible. Not having to commit to an expensive, bulky computer to attempt to build a system may open the door for many developers to attempt projects which may flourish into a brilliant product.

Funded on crowd supply with new shipments planned to ship out this October, watch the video below for more insight:

VR and no VR treatments compared using fMRI

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What if we could minimize the amount of deleterious painkillers and risky anesthetic procedures simply by providing someone with a distraction? Many people have at some time experienced how distraction can minimize pain, and now virtual reality products are emerging for practical use in healthcare.

Pain is a major reason people seek medical treatment, and one of the main factors that we want to minimize during medical procedures. Like most ‘feelings’ it is also an incredibly difficult concept to objectively measure, and is almost entirely subjective based on the individual. Previous experience, sensitivity, and psycho-social factors all play into our perception of what we perceive as an unpleasant, protective response.

Though it is difficult to tell someone that the pain they are experiencing is ‘all in their head,’ this is the most basic explanation of what is behind the sensation. The way that our brain interprets the signals we receive dictates what we feel.

Firsthand is a virtual reality company which is using the individual interpretation of pain experience to create a product which provides an alternate treatment to manage pain levels. With animation playing for a subject undergoing a medical procedure, early trials have shown a decrease in reported pain for those using the Firsthand virtual reality masks. Subjects wearing the mask can engage in a game such as ‘SnowWorld,’throwing snowballs at objects while they virtually navigate an icy terrain.

A great aspect of Firsthand’s trial is the ability to specify parameters used during the VR experience: a wide field of view above 60 degrees, visual flow, and engaging interaction.This provides a framework toward future use, with the hope that VR can become standardized for pain control.

Numerous studies in medicine and dentistry have begun to turn toward virtual reality as an analgesic. In one study, subjects undergoing a burn wound debridement reported significantly decreased pain when using VR as a distraction. Burn wound debridements are incredibly painful, and it is amazing that numerous subjects would report decreased pain during this procedure without medication.

For those dealing with chronic pain whose only medical option is often medication after failing numerous other treatments, Firsthand could offer some hope to help break the pain cycle. And for those undergoing medical procedures, Firsthand could provide an alternate experience to minimize the recovery and side effects of anesthesia and strong pain medications.

Watch the video below for more insight of how virtual reality can provide an alternative to painkillers for those dealing with chronic pain: