Stentrode: Moving with the power of thought

I was traveling in the united states and
I had been reading about the field of brain-machine interfaces that was
developing the organisation that was conducting this work is DARPA — the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency which is world-renowned for developing radical
innovative research. Essentially what we’re trying to build as a bionic spinal
cord the challenge for us with this
technology was partly that we were not familiar with what the brain signals
would look like when you’re recording brain activity from inside a blood
vessel in the head. There are other research groups out there who are
achieving brain recordings for the purpose of brain-machine interfaces by
taking off the skull in an operation called a craniotomy by injecting
electrodes directly into the brain and then recording activity from the part of
the brain that enables movement. Those brain signals associated with movement
and translated through a computer with the use of an algorithm and the signal
out of the brain through the computer is then fed back into a robotic limb or
mobility assist system such as an exoskeleton which enables the user to
control that system by direct thought. The step we’ve taken is in avoiding the
open brain surgery step and delivering our technology without having to conduct
any open brain surgery. So this iteration of device is designed for returning
mobility to people with paralysis. The device has gone through a number of
iterations and there have been a large number of challenges that we’ve had to
overcome to manufacture a device that’s suitable and safe for implantation. One of
the main challenges was to enable a device that was flexible enough to get
around the blood vessels as well as strong enough to be pushed through the
tube required to deliver it. The device is made out of nitinol, a
nickel-titanium composite that enables it greater resilience when being flexed
and compressed, over other more commonly used materials which allows us to deploy it through a very small catheter and expand it to a larger size when in the blood vessel
region-of-interest. Engineers always want to put more bells and whistles
on things, and clinicians like things to be a lot easier and we’ve been able
to meet halfway — so this device is quite simple for it can achieve.
We’ve managed to develop the technique to involve this device and record activity
from the motor cortex in the brain. The device is put in through a very superficial cut
using a fluoroscope — this is a device that we can watch the path of the
catheter traveling up through different blood vessels into the brain. You can
navigate the device up into the brain we put it into a blood vessel for the sacral
sinus. This is in the middle of the brain, it sits on top of the motor cortex and
the device sits within the blood vessel. The device has electrodes around the outside
and these electrodes pick up the nerve activity from the motor cortex in the
brain and the aim, as i mentioned, will be to take these signals and use it to
move a bionic limb, or perhaps even a wheelchair for people who have paralysis. This is a
fantastic story for Melbourne. It really shows the wonderful advantage of the Parkville Precinct where we have the collaboration and the infrastructure the
University, of the Royal Melbourne Hospital and of the medical research
institutes, in this particular case the Florey Neuroscience
Institute. This has been a Holy Grail for researching bionics — to develop a
device to record brainwave activity over long periods of time and mostly it’s been
done by implanting directly through neurosurgical procedures,
electrodes onto the brain. The problem with that is it is invasive — it has risks —
and also the electrodes implanted directly on the brain can set up infection, fibrosis and
ultimately the quality deteriorates. Where inside the
blood vessel it’s much more protected and doesn’t damage
the brain anyway and able to be kept there long-term. So, it provides and a
a new method by which we can achieve what people have been trying to do from a long time.

8 thoughts on “Stentrode: Moving with the power of thought

  1. Amazing!. This technology is similar to Electronic "tattoos" that make telekinesis possible.

  2. could you also implant electrical stimulation devices to paralyzed muscles? You wouldn't need an exoskeleton if they had the limbs I guess… just contract the muscle when you get the signal… quite small power requirements needed there too I suppose.

  3. Very cool, but nickle titanium? Isn't that the same material that the Essure implant that appears to be causing systemic reactions is made of? I thought humans are allergic so some extent to all forms and alloys of nickle. Does the nickle inflammation block the vessel it is implanted within?

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