Technology, biology turn thought into action

Taking technology to the brain to help paralyzed people reconnect with the world.

After 2,000 cumulative days of studying BrainGate's four participants, no safety-related concerns have surfaced, Donoghue said.

Donoghue noted that BrainGate is still in its infancy and is only being demonstrated. While he sees more ambitious uses for the technology, "we're a very long way from that," he said.

The movement BrainGate allows may not be fluid motions, but represent major advancements for paralyzed people, he said. "This may not be an elegant motion, but to a person who can't do anything, we have the ability to give them some control," he said.

Future possible applications of the technology may include restoring limb movement by attaching BrainGate to motorized exoskeleton-like devices on a paralyzed person's arms, for instance. As that person thought about moving an arm, BrainGate would translate those electrical impulses, relay motion intentions to the devices' motor and create movement.

While BrainGate's current uses involve helping the injured, in the future it could potentially find its way into healthy people, although that is a distant scenario, Donoghue said.

"There is the question of how to get information into the brain to instantly use it, like a language, but that is way, way out there," he said.

Donoghue hopes future incarnations of BrainGate's computer system will come in a streamlined, smaller and portable form capable of fitting on a wheelchair. The system's next generation of brain sensors may use wireless technology to transmit data from a patient to the computer array.

"We use infrared to go through the skin," he said. "It can be controlled. Radio frequency goes everywhere."

While some may question science being used in such a way, Donoghue said that severe injuries are not conditions people seek.

"People who are paralyzed never not wish to be paralyzed," he said. "I am convinced this is going to work. In the 1950s no one would have thought of placing wires in humans."

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