In the century of vast technological advancement, people are not far from having thought-controlled prosthetic limbs. Australian scientists said that within a decade, their device will be helping people in wheelchairs or those who have artificial limbs to put their thoughts into actions.
Stentrode, a device just as small as a matchstick, is designed to be implanted next to the brain's motor cortex. It can pick up and transmit signals from the brain, allowing paralyzed people to move.
"This technology is really exciting. It's the first time that we've been able to demonstrate and develop a device that can be implanted without the need for a big operation, to chronically record brain activity," said Terry O'Brien, head of the department of medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and a professor at the University of Melbourne.
What Is A Stentrode?
The device is an implantable device that can read electronic signals from the brain and transmit them to an exoskeleton. It is made from a material called nitinol or nickel titanium, which is designed to withstand expansion and compression without much effect on its function.
Stentrode will be inserted into a blood vessel until it reaches the motor cortex of the brain, which makes it less invasive. Once the device is in place, it will expand to press the electrodes against wall of the blood vessel. From this position, it can now detect brain messages and translate them into instructions that can control prosthetics, wheelchairs and other exoskeleton devices.
"This has been the Holy Grail for research in bionics - a device that can record brainwave activity over long periods. Inside the blood vessel, it's protected, it doesn't damage the brain vessel and can stay there forever," he added.
Human Trials On The Way
The researchers conducted laboratory trials on sheep. This time, they want to see if the technology will also work on humans. In 2017, human trials are expected to start in Australia.
The groundbreaking technology could offer a lot of benefits especially for paralyzed patients. At present, there are available methods that can access brain signals, but they require open-brain surgeries and become less effective as time passes by.
Since the stentrode is less invasive, it can be widely used on patients in the future, if proven effective.
The scientists developed the stentrode under DARPA's Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) program, which aims to discover new prosthetic technology that could help improve the lives of people like war veterans who lost their limbs and had brain injuries.