PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In 2012, a research team led by neuroengineers from Brown University published a landmark study in the field of restorative neurotechnology. As part of a clinical trial, two people who had lost the use of their limbs were able to move a robotic arm just by thinking about moving their own arms and hands. Through an investigational technology called BrainGate, one participant was able to raise a bottle to her mouth and take a drink, the first time in 15 years she had been able to do so.
The breakthrough was made possible by a small implant — a BrainGate brain-computer interface (BCI) — that listens to the signals produced by the brain’s motor cortex and uses computers to decode those signals. Years of pioneering BCI research at Brown resulted in the 2012 breakthrough, and the work has continued ever since.
On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Brown engineering professors David Borton and Leigh Hochberg sat down for a virtual discussion about the future of restorative neurotechnology as well as its history at Brown. Neuroscientists Diane Lipscombe, director of Brown’s Carney Institute for Brain Science, and Christopher Moore, associate director, hosted the event, which is part of a series called Carney Conversations.
Hochberg is one of the leaders of the BrainGate collaboration, a multi-institutional group of physicians, neuroscientists, engineers and others exploring BCIs as a means of helping people with neurological disorders. Hochberg leads the BrainGate clinical trial, which continues to build upon the work published in 2012. More recently, the team showed that a BrainGate BCI combined with electrical stimulation allowed a man with tetraplegia to move his arm and hand. In other research, the team showed people could directly control tablet computers by thinking about moving a mouse.