Brain-computer interface research reaches new frontiers

Neuralink made headlines recently for its brain-computer interface breakthrough, but various studies are claiming to achieve success in this science fiction concept.

Brain-computer interface (BCI) research appears to be gaining traction worldwide, as various studies are claiming success in this field of AI-powered technology.

The general concept of BCI technology involves using an implant that can pick up signals from the brain for a variety of purposes, such as helping people with health conditions to speak, walk or use electronic devices in ways they couldn’t before.

While the concept is likely years away from being able to support patients – and even longer before it reaches mainstream markets – examples already exist of this technology changing people’s lives.

One of the biggest recent examples was Elon Musk’s company Neuralink, which successfully installed a brain-implant device into a human for the first time earlier this year. The company later showed this individual – who is paralysed below the shoulders – using the implant to play video games on a computer and control the volume of music on another device.

But Neuralink isn’t the only company making breakthroughs in this technology. Two studies last year claimed they used brain-computer interfaces to restore communication for two women who had lost the ability to speak due to paralysis – though the error rate was still high in both cases.

Meanwhile, a plan of the NeuroRestore research centre in Switzerland is to create a Brain Spine Interface that can act as a digital bridge between the brain and the spinal cord, to restore motor control of paralysed limbs.

With the recent advancements in the AI sector, its no surprise that BCI studies are revealing new breakthroughs. Let’s look at some of the most exciting studies that were revealed so far this year.


Neuralink isn’t the only company looking at using BCI technology to let people play video games, as a study in the US claims to created a potential “one-size-fits-all” option.

Researchers at the University of Texas recently shared details of their study, which aims to improve the lives of people with motor disabilities. The team said these BCI devices usually require extensive calibration for each user to accommodate the differences in each brain – a major hurdle to mainstream adoption.

But with machine learning, the researchers claim their device can quickly understand the needs of an individual and self-calibrate over time. This means the device could be replicated and used for multiple patients, skipping the time-consuming process of tuning the device to each individual.

“This technology will make it so we won’t need a specialised team to do this calibration process, which is long and tedious,” said graduate student Satyam Kumar, who was involved in the study. “It will be much faster to move from patient to patient.”

The applications go beyond controlling devices for gaming however, as the team is also working on a wheelchair that users can drive using this brain-computer interface.

Brain mapping

Advances in BCI technology is only one part of the journey, as there are also benefits to understanding more about the human brain and its functions. A recent study at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital may hold the key to learning more about the brain’s activity.

A team of neurosurgeons and neuroscientists claim their brain-computer interface is engineered to map a large area of the brain’s surface – in real time – at resolutions hundreds of times more detailed than typical arrays used in neurosurgical procedures.

As part of this study, Mount Sinai neurosurgeons are temporarily placing this investigational device on the surface of participants’ brains during intracranial procedures. This device is being used during surface mapping procedures – tests that measure the brain’s response to sensory stimulation.

The researchers said this experimental device is providing the team with an “extremely detailed depiction of electrical activity in the brain”.

“By monitoring neuronal activity at this unprecedented resolution, our interdisciplinary team at Mount Sinai hopes to gain important insights into how brain function supports behaviour and is affected by disease states,” said Dr Ignacio Saez.

“Our ultimate goal is to obtain actionable knowledge that will open the door to new treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders and improve quality of life for our patients.”

Bringing stakeholders together

Meanwhile, Mass General Brigham – a not-for-profit healthcare system in the US – has established a collaborative effort to bring BCI technology to more people who need it and advance the technology’s development.

The organisation recently formed the Implantable Brain-Computer Interface Collaborative Community – an initiative to bring together researchers, clinicians, medical device manufacturers, patient advocacy groups and individuals with lived experience of neurological conditions.

The goal is to boost the field of implantable brain-computer interface (IBCI) technology with the support of knowledge-sharing and interdisciplinary collaboration. Mass General Brigham will serve as the convener of this initiative.

“As a neurointensive care physician, I know how many patients with neurologic disorders could benefit from these devices,” said Dr Leigh Hochberg, one of the leaders behind the collaboration.

“Increasing discoveries in academia and the launch of multiple IBCI and related neurotech companies means that the time is right to identify common goals and metrics so that IBCIs are not only safe and effective, but also have thoroughly considered the design and function preferences of the people who hope to use them.”

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