A DARPA-funded research team has created a brain implant that can be transported to the brain through blood vessels and take control of artificial limbs.
The new device – dubbed the stentrode –was developed under DARPA’s Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) program, and offers new potential for safely expanding the use of brain-machine interfaces to treat physical disabilities and neurological disorders.
“DARPA has previously demonstrated direct brain control of a prosthetic limb by paralyzed patients fitted with penetrating electrode arrays implanted in the motor cortex during traditional open-brain surgery,” said program manager for RE-NET, Doug Weber.
“By reducing the need for invasive surgery, the stentrode may pave the way for more practical implementations of those kinds of life-changing applications of brain-machine interfaces.”
Traditional brain implants have been implanted into the brain through invasive surgical procedures that require opening the skull.
However, because of the stentrode’s flexibility and durability it can transported via blood vessels, which are used as portals for accessing deep structures while greatly reducing the trauma associated with open surgery.
Proof-of-concept results, from a study conducted in sheep, are described in an article published in Nature Biotechnology.
The article describes how measurements taken from the motor cortex using the stentrode are quantitatively similar to measurements made by commercially available brain implants that require open-brain surgery.
The research into brain-machine interfaces is the defence agency’s latest foray into the health industry having previously created an artificial limb, which communicates directly with the wearer’s neural system, a prosthetic hand that can connect directly to the brain and a number of tiny implantable nerve stimulation devices that can monitor, diagnose and treat the nervous system.