Earlier this week my colleague shared some very cool news: A group of researchers here developed an experimental brain-controlled prosthesis that allows people with paralysis to type on a keyboard just by thinking about moving their hands. The scientists had a long journey reaching this point, and writer Elizabeth Svoboda shared some of it in an online piece:
[Electrical engineer and neuroscientist Krishna Shenoy, PhD,] director of Stanford’s Neural Prosthetic Systems Laboratory, had dreamed of bringing the brain-controlled implant into being even before he came to Stanford. A born tinkerer with a desire to improve people’s lives, he traces his motivation for the project back to memories of his childhood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
‘My mother’s father suffered from multiple sclerosis for around 40 years. He was wheelchair-bound,’ he said. ‘It was not like I ever had a conscious epiphany, ‘I want to help him,’ but I think it subconsciously influenced me greatly.’
Shenoy came to Stanford in 2001 and three years later met Jaimie Henderson, MD, who was well-known for his work in Parkinson’s disease and was then interviewing for a neurosurgery position here. Henderson also just happened to be an expert in using electronic devices to stimulate the nervous system for therapeutic purposes, and:
Gary Steinberg, MD, PhD, professor and chair of neurosurgery, had a hunch Shenoy and Henderson would get along. Steinberg made sure the electrical engineer got penciled into Henderson’s interview schedule. During their first meeting at the Clark Center, the two hit it off.
‘It was chemistry,’ Shenoy said. ‘Two people who just clicked.’ When he told Henderson about his dream of creating a brain-controlled prosthetic system, Henderson responded, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of thing I’d like to do.’
Once hooked, it’s hard not to read on to learn how the collaborators reached where they are today and how they celebrated when the first participant in this study moved the cursor just by thinking about it. And it’s hard not to wonder what they’ll be celebrating in another 15 years.
Previously: Pure brainpower directs onscreen cursor, letting paralyzed people type, Technology for typing with brain signals could allow paralyzed people to communicate and Stanford conducts first U.S. implantation of deep-brain-stimulation device that monitors, records brain activity
Photo, of Jaimie Henderson discussing the work during a TV interview, by Margarita Gallardo