ALS, stroke and spinal cord injury

More than 600,000 people in the U.S. have severely impaired motor function from disorders including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, brainstem stroke, and spinal cord injury. The cost of caring for these patients runs into the billions of dollars. Brain machine interfaces (BMIs) have the potential to free patients from the shackles of these paralyzing disorders by decoding signals recorded from the brain into commands to control the movements of a computer cursor, a prosthetic limb, or even a person’s own limb. These signals have been recorded from different levels of the brain, using noninvasive electrodes on the scalp to electrodes placed on top of the brain or even inside the brain itself. In general, there is a tradeoff between invasiveness and the signal quality. Recently, several research groups have had success at allowing non-paralyzed patients, already undergoing brain surgery for different reasons, to use intermediate-level (subdural) signals to control a cursor movement in two-dimensions. Our research group proposes to investigate a less-invasive (epidural) level of signal to decode not only cursor movement, but also the movements of the fingers and muscle activity while the patient performs one of several grasps. If we can decode individual finger movements, or even decode between one of several grasps, we could then use these signals to control a device that would electrically stimulate a paralyzed person’s arm muscles to restore these hand and finger movements. Also, the mathematical techniques that we will use to decode these signals rely on brain signals that are related to the way people normally move. This is different from the BMIs that currently are used with subdural signals.

Other Grants

Lindsay M. De Biase, Ph.D., University of California Los Angeles
The role of microglial lysosomes in selective neuronal vulnerability
Synapses, the sites of signaling between neurons in the brain, play essential roles in learning, memory, and the health of neurons themselves. An enduring mystery is why some neurons are…
How the nervous system constructs internal models of the external world
As animals navigate their environments, they construct internal models of the external sensory world and use these models to guide their behavior. This ability to incorporate ongoing sensory stimuli into…
Xiaojing Gao, Ph.D., Stanford University
When Neural Circuits Meet Molecular Circuits: Quantitative Genetic Manipulation with Single-cell Consistency
Cells are the building blocks of our bodies. We get sick when the cells “misbehave”. The way modern gene therapies work is to introduce genes, fragments of DNA molecules that…
Rafiq Huda, Ph.D., Rutgers University
Conducting the orchestra of movement—functional role of striatal astrocytes in health and disease
Movement requires coordinated activity across a large brain-wide network. The striatum is a particularly important part of this circuit; it integrates motor-related information from many distinct brain regions to regulate…