Australian researchers have created a minimally invasive brain interface that they suggest may someday enable paralyzed patients to control an exoskeleton via their thoughts.

The stent-based electrode that is the size of a small paper clip is implanted within a blood vessel in the brain and records the type of neuronal activity that has been shown in preclinical trials to move limbs through an exoskeleton or to control bionic limbs, according to a media release from University of Melbourne.

Results from a study published recently in Nature Biotechnology notes that the device is capable of recording high-quality signals emitted from the brain’s motor cortex, without the need for open brain surgery.

“Our vision, through this device, is to return function and mobility to patients with complete paralysis by recording brain activity and converting the acquired signals into electrical commands, which in turn would lead to movement of the limbs through a mobility assist device like an exoskeleton. In essence, this a bionic spinal cord,” explains Thomas Oxley, MD, the study’s lead author, in the release.

Oxley is a neurologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and a research fellow at The Florey Institute of Neurosciences and the University of Melbourne. He is currently based at Mt Sinai Hospital in New York, per the release.

Co-principal investigator Nicholas Opie, PhD, a biomedical engineer at the University of Melbourne, says in the release that the concept is similar to an implantable cardiac pacemaker—electrical interaction with tissue using sensors inserted into a vein, but inside the brain.

“Utilizing stent technology, our electrode array self-expands to stick to the inside wall of a vein, enabling us to record local brain activity. By extracting the recorded neural signals, we can use these as commands to control wheelchairs, exoskeletons, prosthetic limbs, or computers,” Opie states.

“In our first-in-human trial, that we anticipate will begin within 2 years, we are hoping to achieve direct brain control of an exoskeleton for three people with paralysis,” Opie adds.

The in-human trial is expected to take place at The Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2017. The participants will be selected from the Austin Health Victorian Spinal Cord Unit, the release explains.

[Source(s): University of Melbourne, Science Daily]