A team of researchers at the University of Chicago (UChicago) and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) have received a $3.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue collaboration toward developing prosthetic devices with a brain-computer interface (BCI).
The new grant is part of a combined $7 million awarded to UChicago and UPMC and will expand the BCI’s clinical trial to UChicago. It will be led by Sliman Bensmaia, PhD. The research team at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and UPMC will be led by Michael Boninger, MD. The Pitt and UPMC team has worked with two clinical trial participants since 2012, both of whom had paralysis of their arms and hands. The new project will recruit two similar patients at each site.
The BCI, or robotic neuroprosthetic system, works by implanting arrays of electrodes in areas of the brain that control movement and process the sense of touch from a natural limb. The electrodes pick up activity in neurons as the patient thinks about moving his or her arm to direct the robotic arm to move accordingly. The prosthetic hand is fitted with sensors to detect sensations of touch, such as pressing on individual fingertips, which in turn generates electrical signals that stimulate the appropriate areas of the brain.
“Our goal is to create a prosthesis that has the same dexterity and functionality as the natural human hand,” Bensmaia said. “Having a human patient lets us do all kinds of things we couldn’t do before. You can probe the quality of sensations being invoked by asking them what they feel. You can sculpt movements to make more natural and precise.”
Editor’s Note: This story was adapted from materials provided by University of Chicago Medicine.