“Thought Controlled Digital Switch” to be trialled in patients with paralysis

Movement disorders

By Michael Woodhead

10 Apr 2019

Professor Peter Mitchell and co-researcher Associate Professor Nicholas Opie.

A first in human trial is to start in Victoria of an electronic sensor-enabled brain stent to enable thought-controlled remote functions for patients with paralysis and severe movement disorders.

Principal investigator Professor Peter Mitchell, Director of the Royal Melbourne Hospital Neurointervention Service, says the safety and feasibility trial of the Stentrode device aims to recruit five patients with conditions such as spinal cord injury, stroke, muscular dystrophy, or motor neurone disease, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Stentrode comprises a small metallic mesh stent with electrode contacts and a surgical technique that allows implantation in blood vessel of the motor cortex.

The three year trial will investigate whether ‘Thought Controlled Digital Switch” technology is feasible in humans, by assessing the stability of high-fidelity signals from the brain to external communications technologies.

“The real-world effect of this technology is that it will benefit people who are locked into their bodies, who have almost no physical function and can’t speak,” said Professor Mitchell.

“If this trial can successfully provide a brain-to-computer interface, it would allow people with these kinds of injuries and diseases to communicate – this would be amazing,”

“In particular, motor-neurone disease sufferers as well as other patients with severe paralysis may see some benefits such as being able to control a mouse or keyboard through the use of this device. This would give people back a small amount of independence.”

The Stentrode device was created by Associate Professor Thomas Oxley, a vascular and interventional neurologist and world expert in endovascular bionics, and is  is being developed by his company Synchron Pty Ltd.

He said that for people with neurological conditions leading to paralysis, brain signals can be recorded using electrical sensors implanted in the brain.

“These signals could be used by the individuals to control assistive technology (e.g. personal computer, text generation, smart environment, mobility assist devices) that help with daily life, just by thinking and directly controlling special software,” he said.

“We have been able to create the world’s only minimally-invasive device that is implanted into a blood vessel in the brain via a day procedure, avoiding the need for high-risk open-brain surgery.

“This research may help us find safer and more effect ways to introduce electrical sensors to patients. This could help the development of more user-friendly biotechnology for patients with neurological conditions. It may also help to better understand how the human brain works in general,” said Professor Oxley.

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