A student in Dr. José del R. Millán’s lab at the University of Texas at Austin, demonstrates a brain-computer interface project during one of the Health Journalism 2022 field trips. The cap is outfitted with electrodes. When an external magnet is placed near the cap, it produces an electric current that moves the student’s finger. The technology could potentially be harnessed toward recovery for stroke or other patients following brain injury.
Imagine if a computer or assistive technology could process the thoughts of a person paralyzed or lacking the ability to speak and respond. That’s the burgeoning field of brain-computer interfaces, a world that journalists covering Health IT may want to learn about and explore to further enhance their reporting.
A brain-computer interface (BCI) is a technology system that collects and interprets brain signals and transmits them to a connected machine that outputs the commands, panelists explained during “The electric brain: How technology can unite minds and machines” session, moderated by AHCJ Board President Felice Freyer at Health Journalism 2022. During the panel, researchers from Massachusetts, Texas and Michigan highlighted their work in BCIs as potential therapies for people with physical and/or speech limitations.
“When I see somebody in the neuro ICU who yesterday was able to walk and speak without any difficulty, but suddenly today is unable to move with cervical spinal cord injury, I’d like nothing more than to be able to tell that person, ‘I’m sorry this happened, but you’re going to be able to move again tomorrow,’” said Leigh Hochberg, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of engineering and senior lecturer in neurology with Brown University, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Providence VA Medical Center in New England.
That’s one of the goals of a project he directs called BrainGate, an effort funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health, among others, to develop BCI technologies to restore communication, mobility and independence for people with neurologic disease, injury or limb loss.