European Consortium to Develop Fully Implantable BCI
by James Cavuoto, editor
September 2022 issue
In recent months, the market for implanted brain-computer interfaces has intensified as commercial efforts from firms such as Synchron, Neuralink, and Paradromics seek to challenge the early market leader Blackrock Neurotech. Now, a European effort funded by the European innovation Council, may produce another competitor in this space.
A research consortium led by the UMC Utrecht Brain Center in the Netherlands in collaboration with Graz University of Technology in Austria, the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Switzerland, and CorTec in Germany received a grant through the EIC's Pathfinder Challenge mechanism. The researchers aim to develop a unique fully implantable BCI for people with locked-in syndrome. The BCI will be unprecedented in its small size, with wireless broadband data transmission, and powered via induction so will not require batteries. Suitable for use at home, it will be capable of decoding speech in real-time to enable people with LIS to communicate with family and caregivers.
The project will further develop the Wyss Center’s fully implantable wireless ABILITY system to connect to customized ECoG electrode grids, developed by CorTec, that detect brain signals from the surface of the brain. The ambitious timeline aims for full implant development and verification in the first two years of the project, with the second two years focusing on clinical studies and algorithm improvements to restore communication in locked-in patients with ALS or brainstem stroke.
“As a first step to enable the patients to interact with the system, we will set up the decoding for mouse clicks and cursor control from intended movements, which we have shown to be feasible in previous research,” said Gernot Müller-Putz, head of the Institute of Neural Engineering and its associated Laboratory of Brain-Computer Interfaces at Graz.
“This new project builds on the promising preliminary data from our clinical study enabling communication with a completely locked-in participant, and our pre-clinical study currently underway with the wireless, implantable ABILITY device,” said Jonas Zimmermann, senior neuroscientist at the Wyss Center. “In this project we will record from a larger area of the brain and explore new decoding algorithms that have the potential to tackle important clinical and social needs for people with ALS but also for those with other neurological conditions that impair movement and communication.”
The BCI system will be trialed in two people with locked-in syndrome in the home environment. The brain surface-lining electrode grids will collect high resolution neural data that will be decoded using AI algorithms to translate the brain signals to computer speech in real-time.
The research project ‘Intracranial Neurotelemetry to Restore Communication’ is part of the EIC Pathfinder Challenge program that supports researchers who have bold ideas for radically new technologies. The Swiss participants receive support from the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research, and Innovation.