A group of researchers from Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, has won the $1 million Moshe Mirilashvili Memorial Fund Breakthrough Research and Innovation in Neurotechnology (B.R.A.I.N.) Prize for its work to develop the BrainGate, a brain-computer interface (BCI). The prize was awarded at Israel’s first International Brain Technology Conference held October 14-15, in Tel Aviv Port, Israel. Israeli President Shimon Peres presented the prize, including a bronze brain-shaped statue, to the two Brown researchers who represented the BrainGate collaboration in the competition, John Donoghue, PhD, co-director of the BrainGate team, a researcher at the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Henry Merritt Wriston Professor at Brown, where he directs the Brown Institute for Brain Science, and Arto Nurmikko, PhD, the L. Herbert Ballou University professor of engineering and physics, who oversaw the device’s invention.
The investigational BrainGate system, which is being studied in clinical trials with partners including Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Stanford University, California; and Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, uses a baby aspirin-size device with a grid of 96 tiny electrodes that is implanted in the motor cortex. The electrodes are close enough to individual neurons to record the neural activity associated with intended movement. An external computer translates the pattern of impulses across a population of neurons into commands to operate assistive devices, including robotic arms. More recently, the team, led by Nurmikko, has advanced the work by developing and testing a novel broadband wireless, rechargeable, fully implantable version of the brain sensor. The prototype system, which has been tested in animal models, is designed to allow greater freedom for users of the BrainGate system, who currently must be connected to the system’s computers via a cable.
The prize was awarded “for a recent breakthrough in the field of brain technology for the betterment of humanity,” according to a statement by Israel Brain Technologies (IBT), a nonprofit organization inspired by Peres that grants the award. The contest’s panel of judges, experts in neuroscience and technology that included two Nobel laureates, considered presentations from ten finalists.
“We are deeply honored to receive this award,” said Donoghue. “It will support our continued research to help people with paralysis, some of whom cannot speak, to restore their connection to the world around them.”
“The prize recognizes the collection of an extraordinary group of Brown University scientists across multiple disciplines, which I have been privileged to be associated with,” said Nurmikko. “We work as a team unlike any other place I know.”
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by Brown University.
For more information about the BrainGate research, read “BCI Allows People with Paralysis to Control Robotic Arms.”