Archives for posts with tag: Brain Computer Interface

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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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In the past, having a neurological injury which left someone with quadriplegia was a life sentence. With research and developing technology has emerged new hope for people left with minimal use of their arms and legs after an event such as severe stroke or spinal cord injury. Current applications are combining the use of virtual reality and electrical signals from the brain to increase people’s function and potential through brain-computer interface (BCI).

In light of the upcoming Cybathlon as well as BCI Meeting 2016, I would like to highlight a company creating much opportunity through research and development. g.tec is a biomedical engineering company that both creates products and conducts research for BCI. While many of the company’s products are inspiring and impressive, it is their BCI research system which is brilliant.

In a BCI system, a person is able to control a target by thinking, and thus using the electrical signals from their brain which are converted into electrical signals which a computer can detect and use to perform tasks. This task can either be something on a computer screen such as a game or computer application, or a robotic device which is able to pick up these signals and move in response. Much like our bodies can use our brain as the command center to tell us to pick up a pen using our left hand, a BCI system can potentially do the same, replacing a biological hand with a robotic limb.

In order for someone to control a target with their brain, there must be multiple working components. A person wears a cap with electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes, and can use motor imagery to plan a task. The electrical signals in the brain which occur while the person is planning this activity are picked up up by the EEG electrodes, amplified, and converted to electrical signals which the computer system uses to carry out the task. It is an incredibly complex and amazing feat to connect biological and computer systems seamlessly to carry out a task.

As the g.tec website elaborates, the electrical conversion from human brain to computer leads to a number of amazing applications. There is, for example, a motor rehabilitation system where a system is controlled by thought directing virtual hand activity, allowing users to control a prosthesis, wheelchair, or virtual reality environment with their mind. In essence, a person can think that they are using their right hand to spell out a word, and the computer spells out this word in response.

Another application of BCI which g.tec is working toward researching is motor rehabilitation through virtual limbs. In this system, a user imagines a limb moving, and is able to visualize this limb in virtual form on a screen. In essence, this system would allow someone with left sided paralysis after a stroke to visualize moving their left arm on a screen. This is incredibly valuable for recovery from a neurological event such as stroke, where decreased activity in the brain of controlling a limb can lead to permanent difficulty of extremity control. “Use it or lose it” unfortunately can prove to be an accurate description of limb use after a debilitating stroke.

While this technology is still emerging and by no means has reached its full potential, g.tec presents us with a diverse platform for research and development of products which will have a huge impact on those who are affected by stroke and other neurological injuries. Anyone who has observed someone with such an injury understands the frustration, disappointment, and loss of independence that such an event brings.

The BCI research system is just one of many groundbreaking products that g.tec is developing. Their site outlines many more products which perform a variety of functions, from cortical mapping to assisting people with communication limitations.

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Research, often underappreciated, is the foundation of medical decisions and the determining factor for whether devices and medications pass on to us as a population. Before we even hear about many of the amazing medical devices that are available to us, they undergo intense research to prove their safety and efficacy, and have to pass through national regulations to be distributed to the general population.

Research is the basis of the trends and decisions that we make in healthcare. In physical therapy, research is the basis of the treatments we provide. It makes for valuable, efficient treatment. Research proves the effectiveness of exercise for treating back pain, and provides the justification for why we prescribe specific exercises.

In the case of brain injury, this research is vital because subjects are not always able to describe their progress and limitations as they go through the healing process. A brain injury, especially when traumatic, leaves someone relearning to do the activities that we spent our childhood years developing: walking, talking, eating, expressing what they want and understanding commands. Time is very valuable during recovery, and it is important to begin effective treatment immediately before the results from the injury become chronic. With good research, there is more likelihood that effective treatment can be provided at an appropriate time.

KINARM Labs is a robotic platform developed for neuroscientists to conduct basic and clinical research for brain injury in the realm of cognitive, sensory, and motor deficits. This is novel and fantastic as it provides an option for both companies developing products and clinical research to learn more about their subjects. It is quite an amazing and involved research option for neuroscientists, with a multitude of research options to explore for researchers. There are two basic categories of available research platform: an Exoskeleton Lab and a hand-held bimanual End-Point Lab.

The Exoskeleton Lab helps to evaluate sensorimotor performance and voluntary motor control after a brain injury. This lab allows researchers to observe aspects of controlled movement such as joint motion. As the site states, this is a huge asset in the development of neuroprosthetics, where devices optimize the use of intact neural systems to help regain motor control of areas that have been injured.

The End-Point Lab is a graspable, hand-held robotics research platform which has sensors which helps to evaluate components important for upper limb control and coordination, visual research, and virtual reality as it relates to brain injury. One of the many great aspects of this lab is that it is bimanual, and thus the performance of an affected side can be compared to the unaffected side after injury.

It is difficult to fully describe all the aspects of this amazing platform. Go to their site to learn more. As healthcare technology expands its options and devices, it is vital for companies to remember that devices and programs available for clients must be based on research and knowledge.

Additionally, see the diagram below for a platform comparison:

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In honor of the now open registration of the Cybathlon, I would like to highlight the Brain Computer Interface (BCI) category, where paralyzed athletes (pilots) will be able to navigate an onscreen race course using only their brains.

For those with injuries that leave them paralyzed from the neck down, recent products have improved the ability to communicate and interact with the surrounding environment. Such products include wearable technology that includes electroencephalography (EEG) sensors, which read signals from the brain through electrodes and transmit theses signals into readable information on a screen. Through Brain Computer Interface systems, a person is able to visualize a task through mental imagery, and these signals are transmitted through EEG into activity on a screen or movement of a device.

One such product that is able to transfer these signals to screen is Enobio. Enobio is ‘a wearable and wireless electrophysiology sensor system for the recording of EEG.’  It is a system which is worn over the head and includes an 8, 20, or 32 electrode system for numerous applications. Brain computer interface is just one of the uses, while other applications include basic research, neuromodulation, medical applications, and biometry. Such a product of course is not limited for those with disabilities, and can be beneficial to many different users.

See the video below to watch users remotely control a dancing robot:

The age of robotics has created a new kind of athlete, and the possibilities are quite amazing. 2016 will mark the first Cybathlon, to be held in Switzerland. This will be a competition for parathletes, called “pilots,” using robot-assisted technology. The competition is an Olympics-style event, featuring six different competitions, or “disciplines.” Each discipline features pilots with a specific category of injury using an appropriate device. In this competition, both the pilots and robotics companies are allowed the opportunity to win a prize. This competition is not only a victory for the advancement of robotics beyond basic function, but more importantly for athletes with life altering injuries such as amputations and spinal cord injuries.

The first competition will is an “Arms Prosthetic Race,” which features two events. Those with amputation of the arms using upper body bionic prosthetics to complete a two hand course using a loop around a wire, and a “SHAP course ADL” which is an upper body obstacle course requiring pilots to perform a series of tasks, grasping different kinds of objects in order to progress to the next.

The second discipline is a BCI (brain computer interface) race, in which participants mentally race avatars through a variety of obstacle courses. This discipline is for those with spinal cord injury at neck level, which has left them paralyzed from the neck down.

The discipline close to heart, however, is the “Powered Exoskeleton Race.” Did we ever think we would see a day when athletes with spinal cord injuries leaving their lower body without motor control would run in an Olympic-style event? This discipline will feature an obstacle course including stairs, ramps, slopes, narrow beam and others, ending in a final sprint. Wow.

For those with spinal cord injuries leaving their trunk and upper body motor control intact, Discipline three features an FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) bike race. An FES bike assists lower body movement while the trunk and arms work to help control the bike around a race course.

A Leg Prosthetics Race and Powered Wheelchair Race comprise two other disciplines for those with lower body injuries.