BrainGate is a brain implant system developed by the bio-tech company Cyberkinetics in 2003 in conjunction with the Department of Neuroscience at Brown University. The device was designed to help those who have lost control of their limbs, or other bodily functions, such as patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or spinal cord injury. The computer chip, which is implanted into the brain, monitors brain activity in the patient and converts the intention of the user into computer commands. Cyberkinetics describes that "such applications may include novel communications interfaces for motor impaired patients, as well as the monitoring and treatment of certain diseases which manifest themselves in patterns of brain activity, such as epilepsy and depression."
Currently the chip uses 100 hair-thin electrodes that sense the electro-magnetic signature of neurons firing in specific areas of the brain, for example, the area that controls arm movement. The activities are translated into electrically charged signals and are then sent and decoded using a program, which can move either a robotic arm or a computer cursor. According to the Cyberkinetics' website, three patients have been implanted with the BrainGate system. The company has confirmed that one patient (Matt Nagle) has a spinal cord injury, while another has advanced ALS.
The remarkable breakthrough offers hope that people who are paralyzed will one day be able to independently operate artificial limbs, computers or wheelchairs. The implant, called BrainGate, allowed Matthew Nagle, a 25-year-old
The movements were his first since he was stabbed five years ago. The attack severed his spinal cord. "The results hold out the promise to one day be able to activate limb muscles with these brain signals, effectively restoring brain to muscle control via a physical nervous system," said John Donoghue, director of the brain science program at Brown University, Rhode Island, and chief scientific officer of Cyberkinetics, the company behind the brain implant. Professor Donoghue's work is published today in Nature. He describes how, after a few minutes spent calibrating the implant, Mr. Nagle could read emails and play the computer game Pong. He was able to draw circular shapes using a paint program and could also change channel and turn up the volume on a television, even while talking to people around him. After several months, he could also operate simple robotic devices such as a prosthetic hand, which he used to grasp and move objects.