Approximately 300,000 people in the United States have a spinal cord injury with many of these individuals experiencing permanent motor and sensory deficits. For individuals with cervical spinal cord injury, restoration of arm and hand function is a top priority. Our team is developing a bidirectional brain-computer interface (BCI) to address this priority. Neural activity is recorded from the motor cortex and movement intention can be decoded and used as a control signal for a robotic arm and hand. The relationship between neural activity and movement intention derived during attempted movements in someone with spinal cord injury is similar to that measured during overt movements in intact subjects. The use of biomimetic decoding approaches enables robust performance approaching that of an able-bodied person without significant training or learning. We have also shown that a biomimetic approach can be used to restore the sense of touch through microstimulation of electrodes implanted in the somatosensory cortex. Tactile sensations restored with the BCI feel like they originate from the participant’s own hand and can be graded in intensity. Sensations are evoked in a spatially organized manner as would be expected from neurophysiologic studies in able-bodied subjects. Finally, we show that BCI performance on functional tasks involving object transport is improved substantially with the addition of sensory feedback, even for tasks that were performed well with only vision.
1. Introduce the audience to the impact of spinal cord injury
2. Describe biomimetic principles that guide the development of bidirectional brain-computer interfaces
3. Present data to demonstrate significantly improved brain-computer interface performance when visual feedback is supplemented with restored tactile sensations