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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Neurotechnology
Posted: August 25, 2017 at 4:13 am
If researchers can use implanted BCIs to allow people to bypass their muscles, indeed, if these scientists can find a cost-effective, reliable way to work around a damaged or compromised nervous system, people suffering paraplegia, amputation, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s, and a host of other diseases that rob them of their independence, may soon find that the frustrations of daily life are lessened.
Richard van Hooijdonk | Richard van Hooijdonk
Bill Kochevar wears a bright red shirt and what looks like a cast on his right arm. As he raises a fork to his mouth, his movements are awkward and slow, supported by a gravity defying brace mounted on the floor next to his wheelchair.
Hes got a fork full of mashed potatoes, and as he raises it to his mouth, the joy on his face is unmistakable.
It was amazing…I thought about moving my arm and it did!
That may seem unremarkable to you, but since a bicycle collision with a mail truck, Kochevar has been paralysed from the neck down.
Just imagine being paralysed.
Its the stuff of nightmares–wanting to flee and finding your legs rooted in place, unresponsive.
And weve all slept on an arm for long enough to render it dead. Think about that experience now. When you woke up, your limb was just meat, just dead weight that wouldnt move at your beck and call as it should.
Now imagine knowing that no amount of waiting will summon the pins and needles that mean your arm is coming back from the dead, that instead, itll hang lifeless at your side for the rest of your life, and that far from being indispensably useful, youll instead spend every waking moment trying to compensate for this new obstacle, adjusting everything you do from brushing your teeth to driving a car to typing at work–if, indeed, you can work.
Now extend that to multiple limbs or remove them altogether.
You can start to see what its like to live in a body that refuses to cooperate.
Paralysis affects far more people than you might realise. For instance, the Reeve Foundation recently found that 1 in 50 Americans struggle with paralysis caused by stroke, spinal injury, and muscular sclerosis. Nearly a majority are unable to work, a staggering 41.8%.
For them, independence is a dream, something they might remember but no longer experience. But now, advances in neurotech may help them live fuller, more self-sufficient lives.
Mind-controlled wheelchairs and the next step
To help those whove suffered a profound loss of motor control, researchers have been exploring mind-controlled wheelchairs. Rodrigo Quevedo, a Chilean engineer, has developed a design in his Idea factory. His motivating passion, he says, is to do something so [paraplegics] can move. Rodrigos current designs steer the chair by subtle head movements, but hes hoping to make the move to neural control soon.
Diwakar Vaish beat Rodrigo to the punch. This young Indian tech guru has developed the first commercially available wheelchair that features a brain computer interface (BCI). The user need only wear a headset that collects information from her brains electrical impulses, the neural storm that accompanies thought. The BCI translates these minute electrical signals into a language a computer can understand, something like a sophisticated google translate of thoughts. Now that the computer can grasp what a particular thought looks like, it can react and obey.
In Vaishs system, the non-invasive headset connects the users brain to the chair via Bluetooth, and augmented by proximity and terrain sensors, this has allowed even the most stricken patients a measure of autonomy. All thats demanded of the user is a healthy brain, so even those trapped by Locked-in Syndrome can use the new chair. As Vaish told The Sunday Guardian, We have tried it on patients who are in a vegetative state, but their brain is functional and it was successful.
The next steps are to move beyond motorised chairs and into the world of exoskeletons. Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist, has been working together with colleagues at Duke University as part of the Walk Again Project to design a wireless system that allows control of a wheelchair with thought alone. By implanting a tiny BCI in the brain of two rhesus monkeys, chosen for their similarity to human beings, they were able to demonstrate that it could control the movements of the chair. Hes pursuing this method because, as he explained to the Mirror, In some severely disabled people, even blinking is not possible. For them, using a wheelchair or device controlled by non invasive measures like an EEG, a device that monitors brain waves through electrodes on the scalp, may not be sufficient. To provide the control they need, invasive measures are necessary.
Nicolelis goal, then, isnt to duplicate Vaishs design. Instead, he wants eventually to develop robotic exoskeletons that are nothing less than an extension of their users mind, a dream he thinks is within reach given the data from these early experiments. For his test monkeys, the chair became something more than a means to get from one place to another; in fact, the wheelchair is being assimilated by the monkeys brain as an extension of its bodily representation of itself. If Nicolelis is right, he might be taking the first steps toward real mobility for paraplegics and others with profound motor impairment. We are not focused on the wheelchair, he promises.
Until now, if you lost an arm–but still had enough of one to be fitted for a prosthesis–doctors could fit you with an artificial arm that you could learn to control by moving the muscles left in your stump. These cumbersome systems are hobbled on a lot of these ifs: if the patient has enough remaining tissue, if the tissue still allows muscle movement, if the prosthetic arm can work well enough outside the lab.
These ifs fall on patients live like a thick blanket of snow, quickly obscuring the way forward. Thats why as many as half of these patients find their new arms collecting dust.
But scientists are well aware of these technological limitations, and their working to overcome them. One example of promising research comes from Johns Hopkins. Working with an epilepsy patient who needed his brain mapped to help him combat his seizures, a process wherein doctors implant tiny electrodes to stimulate the brain at precise–and unique–points, a research team led by Nathan Crone was able to implant a tiny BCI as well. 128 sensors in an areas about the size of a credit card were attached to the part of the mans brain that controls the arm and hand. After mapping exactly how the patients brain worked with a special glove, this interface allowed the Hopkins team to bypass the patients body and use only his thoughts to control the individual fingers of a robotic hand.
Initial results were promising; after mapping his brain, the test patient was able to control the robotic hand with 76% accuracy. By refining the control of the prosthesis–pairing the ring and pinky fingers together, that number rose to 88%. Thats no small feat!
The advantage of a system like this is not only that it can allow functional independence to people who had given up on caring for themselves, but also that it isnt artificial. Patients need merely think about what they want to do–and the artificial limb, chair, or robotic appendage does what its supposed to do. Case Western Reserve University is experimenting with implanted BCIs that have returned a measure of control to Kochevar. Now able to feed himself, hold a cup, and manipulate a fork, he explains, I think about what I want to do and the system does it for me. Its not a lot of thinking about it. When I want to do something, my brain does what it does. The researchers working with him think this is only the beginning.
With further development, we believe the technology could give more accurate control, allowing a wider range of actions, which could begin to transform the lives of people living with paralysis, Bolu Ajiboye, the lead scientist for this study told The Guardian.
Ajiboyes optimism is bolstered by the success of patients like Kochevar, who can slowly raise a mug to his lips and drink from a straw. For someone with quadriplegia to gain even this limited mobility is life-changing, and this advance charts the course for future innovations and provides powerful new tools to help those in need.
If researchers can use implanted BCIs to allow people to bypass their muscles, indeed, if these scientists can find a cost-effective, reliable way to work around a damaged or compromised nervous system, people suffering paraplegia, amputation, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s, and a host of other diseases that rob them of their independence, may soon find that the frustrations of daily life are lessened. For futurists and trendwatchers, the promise is clear.
This new breed of BCI, powered by advances in neuroscience, isnt just technology.
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Posted: at 4:13 am
New technologies may be on the way to better help doctors diagnose and treat patients with neurological diseases.
Researchers from the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU) have come together to develop several new technologies, including an artificial intelligence system that can accurately identify types of traumatic brain injuries from computed tomography (CT) scans.
Innovation occurs at intersections of disciplines, knowledge and expertise, associate professor Ng Wai Hoe, Medical Director of the National Neuroscience Institute, said in a statement. Doctors have a deep understanding of clinical needs from their everyday interactions with patients.
Our unique collaboration brings these medical needs to engineering laboratoriesan environment where imagination is encouraged in the form of technological advances and capabilities.
The researchers also plan to develop a computer algorithm for more precise identification of tissues during brain surgeries, which aim to restore the neurological functions of patients suffering from various conditions including Parkinsons disease.
A new fellowship programmanaged by NTUs Institute for Health Technologieswill see up to two neurosurgical residents at NNI work full-time with NTU professors on campus, with each resident receiving $100,000 to complete and commercialize these projects.
The program was designed to foster a relationship over the next three years between medical practitioners and engineers through annual fellowships and student attachment programs.
The rapidly ageing population will lead to a significant rise in neurological diseases globally, Hoe said. By harnessing the power of the human brain, neurotechnology can provide solutions to revolutionize the treatment of brain disorders.
This partnership has great potential to be an innovation launchpad for neurotechnology.
A student attachment program aimed at grooming multidisciplinary scientists will also be introduced, giving students an opportunity to widen their engineering knowledge into medical practice, gaining first-hand exposure to various aspects of clinical medicine by interacting with neurosurgeons.
Professor Lam Khin Yong, NTU’s Chief of Staff and Vice President for Research, said the new technology will assist the next wave of doctors.
This collaboration creates a unique multidisciplinary research environment by integrating healthcare with both medical and engineering expertise from NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and College of Engineering, Yong said in a statement. This will not only nurture next-generation doctors armed with a multidisciplinary skillset to meet Singapore’s healthcare needs, but also enhance medical technologies to diagnose and treat neurological conditions more effectively.
In Switzerland, additional technological advancements are making an impact in the treatment of neurological disorders.
Researchers from the National Centre of Competence in Research Robotics at cole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne (EPFL) and at the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland, have developed an algorithm to help those paralyzed by a neurological disorder or injury. The algorithm helps a robotic harness facilitate the movements of patients, enabling them to move naturally. This new technology could help patients regain their locomotor skills
A variety of neurological disorders including stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, can lead to paralysis. Currently, people with motor disabilities rehabilitate by walking on a treadmill with the upper torso being supported by an apparatus. However, this can be either too rigid or does not allow the patient to move naturally in all directions.
Locomotor rehabilitation requires helping the nervous system relearn the right movements, which is difficult due to the loss of muscle mass in patients, as well as train the neurological wiring that has forgotten correct posture.
The researchers designed the algorithm to overcome these obstacles. The robotic rehabilitation harness was tested on more than 30 patients and markedly and immediately improved the patients locomotor abilities.
The harnesscalled the smart walk assistis a body-weight support system that manages to resist the force of gravity and push the patient in a given direction to recreate a natural gait and movement that the patient needs in their everyday lives.
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Posted: August 20, 2017 at 6:22 pm
JoAnne Viviano The Columbus Dispatch @JoAnneViviano
A new pain pellet that scientists are developing in Columbus isabout half the size of a grain of rice, but researchers say it delivers a big dose of relief that could one day help fight the opioid epidemic.
The tiny rod holds a nonaddictive painkiller that doctors could insert in the lower back, much like an epidural, to give a patient a break from chronic or acute pain, said Dr. Ali Rezai, director of the Neurological Institute at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. He would not reveal the painkiller, saying only that it is a drug that already has beenused successfully as a cardiovascular medication.
Goals includegiving physicians an alternative to the opioid-based pain medications that have led to addiction.
“We want to look at the opioid crisis,” Rezai said. “We want to stop it at its root.”
Supporters have formed a company, Sollis Therapeutics, to create the product and are now raising funds, said Dr. Greg Fiore, Sollis’ chief executive officer. Fiore hails from Boston and is the founder of Fiore Healthcare Advisors, a scientific consulting firm. Rezai serves as scientific adviser to Sollis.
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A small trial of 55 people with sciatica pain in the lower back and legs showed that the pellet stopped pain for up to one year and was safe and easy to use,Fiore said. Researchers will next seek to perform a large clinical trial, hoping toconfirm effectiveness and safety. The trial will involve a broader group of peopleculled from pain centers across Ohio.
If efficacy and safety are proved, researchers would seek approval for the pellet from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They hope to have the pellet in use within four or five years.
Sollis, headquartered in the University District, is the second company to be formed by the Neurotechnology Innovations Translator, which is funded by the Ohio Third Frontier Program. Both seek to move ideas from the lab to the marketplace.
Opioids are commonly used to treat chronic pain,Rezai said.
But the highly addictive nature of the medications, Fiore said, is a reason to find alternatives. Someone who takes opioids for a single day, for example,has a 6 percent chance of being addicted a year later.
“It’s really important to avoid starting, even for legitimate conditions,” he said. “It confers an increased risk for not being able to come off these drugs.”
Along with medications, 11 million steroid injections are given each year to treat neck and back pain in the United States, Rezai said.Such injections might not work and, when they do, relief doesn’tlast long.
He wanted to bring the project to Ohio, and hopes are to eventually manufacture the pellets here.
“It’s one of the ground zero states for the opioid crisis,” Rezai said. “This is a big problem; it’s just spiraling, so we want to find solutions quickly.”
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In the Future, Humans Will Use Brain to Brain Communication and Download Their Memories If Elon Musk Has His Way – Newsweek
Posted: August 14, 2017 at 12:23 pm
Elon Musk wants to get inside your head. In April, the Silicon Valley billionaire announced plans to launch Neuralinka company dedicated to developing a brain-to-machine interface to cure brain ailments like paralysis and memory problems and help people compete with robots when the artificial intelligence revolution makes human brains obsolete. Musk says this will be accomplished by implanting tiny electrodes into the brainallowing for things like downloading and uploading memory and casual brain-to-brain communication.
Leaders in the neurotechnology field welcome Musks arrival, while neuroethicists and others urge caution. The endeavor may sound like science fiction, but its feasible, says Timothy Deer, president of the International Neuromodulation Society, a nonprofit group of researchers and developers dedicated to using spinal cord stimulation to treat neurological pain. The cochlear implant was invented 20 years ago, and with electricity and the right frequencies targeting the brain, it allows people to hear, he says. That sounded impossible back then. And great gains require great brains, Deer says. Ben Franklin didnt know how to harness electricity, but he and others knew it was the key to something. Now, we know how to use electricity in very specific ways. Its exciting to see how Mr. Musk might change how we think.
Humans have been trying to mess with their brain waves to solve diseases since ancient times: The Romans and Greeks used to put electric fish on top of their heads to relieve pain, says Ana Maiques, CEO of Neuroelectrics, a company that develops noninvasive wireless brain monitoring and stimulation technologies.
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Elon Musk, chairman and chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc., gestures as he speaks during a news conference in Fremont, California, on September 29, 2015. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty
Maiques is happy Musk has entered the neurotech field. With new technologies, including artificial intelligence, there is a lot of room for startups and new companies, she says.
Jennifer French, co-founder and executive director of Neurotech Network, a nonprofit that advocates for and educates the public about implantable technology, says investments in neuroscience and neurotechnology from the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative started by the Obama administration have been critical in exploring the brains mysteries.
Zack Lynch, founder of Neurotechnology Industry Organization, a global trade association representing companies involved in neuroscience and brain research, says, The [human] brain is the most complicated organ on the planet. The neurotechnology industry produces $165 billion in yearly revenue, he says, but 90 percent of that revenue comes from pharmaceuticals for neurological disorders like Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Annual revenue from neurological devices is about $10 billion.
If Musk is successful, he will run into a swamp of ethical issues. Neuroscience raises questions about technology, art, entertainment, warfare, religion and what it means to be human, Lynch says. And these considerations will be difficult to address in the short term, says Peter Reiner, professor and co-founder of the National Core for Neuroethics. Most important is privacy of thought. When a computer is hooked up to me and knows what Im thinking, that becomes a very challenging area to navigate. Another issue is what Reiner calls reason bypassing. If a device can influence your brain without you perceiving it, are you really making your decisions? He believes society already faces these questions with smartphones: Advertisers are collecting information about users based on their browsing habits and then using that data to try to change their behavior.
Daniel Wilson, a best-selling author and robotics engineer, considers these ethical issues in his novel Amped, which predicts that neurotechnology will cure people with mental disabilities and eventually help them leapfrog beyond human ability. The amplified humans known as amps are then discriminated against because the public fears their abilities.
Wilson believes brain-to-machine interfaces will become common, but that they will not diminish the humanity of their users. People often look at human creations, and we call them unnatural, Wilson says. But from my perspective, theres nothing more natural than a human being creating a tool. Birds nests or anything animals do instinctively always seems natural, but we consider it unnatural when a human uses a tool. Thats the most natural thing that a human can do. To put that tool in our bodies is a completely natural extension of what weve been doing for millennia.
Posted: July 31, 2017 at 10:25 am
Elon Musk talks of his life's 'highs' and 'lows' in a few painfully honest tweets
As the CEO of automaker Tesla and private space transport company SpaceX, founder of neurotechnology company Neuralink and tunneling company Boring Company, and a key figure in AI non-profit OpenAI, Musk is obviously extremely busy. He's also a …
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Posted: July 30, 2017 at 2:18 pm
Kevin co-founded the NIT with Dr. Rezai, after a distinguished career spanning over 20 years in venture capital and operating roles specializing in building medical device companies from concept to commercialization.Kevin brings an experienced and practiced hand to NIT, with roles spanning investment and board leadership, executive leadership, engineering, business development, and marketing.Prior to founding NIT, Kevin founded MentorCatalyst to pursue his passion for MedTech company-building and for working intimately with entrepreneurs with a craftsman-styled approach to working with startup MedTech teams, deeply engaging on a select few startup medical device companies, providing comprehensive leadership and guidance. Prior to NIT and MentorCatalyst, Kevin spent eleven years as a Managing Director at Versant Ventures where he focused on investing in and building early stage medical device companies, and participated in the Firms investments in over 100 healthcare companies across 3 different investment funds, with investment allocations of over $1.1 B in capital.Kevin currently serves, or has served, in board or advisory roles with companies which include Acclarent (acquired: Johnson & Johnson), Autonomic Technologies, Cereve, Eargo, LipoSonix (acquired: Medicis), Lutonix (acquired: Bard), Microfabrica, Neoguide Systems (acquired: Intuitive Surgical), Oculeve (acquired: Allergan), Respicardia, Rox Medical, Second Sight Medical (NASDAQ: EYES), St. Francis Medical (acquired: Kyphon), and The Innovation Factory.
Kevin previously held numerous operating leadership roles, including marketing and business development at Guidant Corporation, business development at Heartstream, and engineering development and management at Hughes Aircraft Company. Kevin holds both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in product design, as well as an MBA, all from Stanford University.
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