For the first time, scientists have developed a new minimally invasive brain-computer interface that can be implanted inside the brain without the need for open surgery. This means that patients could receive the neural implant without incurring any risk of seizures, strokes, or permanent neural impairments, caused by open-brain surgery. The device, named Stentrode, has already been successfully tested in sheep, and now Synchron, the company that developed it, has received approval to begin human experimentation.
Implanted via jugular vein, the device is placed inside the motor cortex, the command-control center of the brain. According to the researchers, this technology has the potential to enable patients with paralysis to communicate without having to move a muscle.
A novel approach
Direct electrical stimulation (DES) of the brain is approved to treat a number of diseases, such as depression, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological disorders. However, access to the brain requires invasive procedures. Electrode implantation can cause inflammatory tissue responses and brain trauma, and lead to device failure. A minimally invasive endovascular surgical approach might enable safe and efficacious stimulation of focal regions in the brain.
Stentrode is a metallic endovascular stent covered with platinum electrodes and designed to overcome paralysis by creating a digital bypass from the brain to assistive devices. The signals of the brain are continuously collected by a wireless antenna unit, implanted under the skin in the chest and programmed to sends signals to an external device.
According to Thomas Oxley, creator and CEO of Synchron, these signals could be used by the patients to control assistive technology – such as keyboards, exoskeletons, and even mobility assist devices – just by thinking and directly controlling special software. This would give people back a small amount of independence.
In the coming months, Synchron will recruit five participants to trial the device. Before trials can begin, potential participants will need to undergo several brain scans. Then, the patients selected will start training to use the device and its software.
The main purpose of the research is to find out if the use of Stentrode is safe in humans. The study will also assess the stability of high-fidelity signals from the brain to external communications technologies by studying Stentrode alongside BrainOS, a software that captures signals and transmits data to an artificial intelligence (AI) program.
“This research may help us find safer and more effective 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.” – Oxley –