Studies Progress After 10 Years Since First Intracortical BCI Implant at Pitt Rehab Neural Engineering Labs

April 12, 2022

It’s been over 10 years since the first intracortical BCI implant at the University of Pittsburgh Rehab Neural Engineering Labs, and the research continues today. The BCI team at Pitt and UPMC, composed of Jennifer Collinger, PhD, Michael Boninger, MD, and Robert Gaunt, PhD, has worked with Pittsburgh-area clinical trial participants since 2012. This video highlights our Sensorimotor Microelectrode Brain-Machine Interface study, and demonstrates the experiences of participants Jan, Nathan, and Dom. 

The goal of this research study is to demonstrate somatosensory feedback-enabled neural control of high degree-of-freedom assistive devices. This will be accomplished by the use of two recording arrays implanted chronically in the motor cortex and two stimulation arrays implanted chronically in the somatosensory cortex of individuals with impaired upper limb function. Over the period of one year, we will have the opportunity to train participants to control devices such as a computer cursor or a robotic arm. Participants may also receive microstimulation in somatosensory regions of their brain, which will enable them to feel cutaneous-like percepts.

As the training progresses, they will learn to control sophisticated, dexterous limbs in virtual environments, which simulate the capabilities provided by complex robotic manipulators. Finally, in a safe environment they will learn to use available robotics technology to perform tasks that represent important activities of daily living.

In this research study, a person’s own movement-related brain signals are decoded and used to direct a robotic arm to accomplish meaningful tasks, such as self-feeding and grasping and moving objects. Very small microelectrode arrays are implanted on the surface of the brain for up to one year. These devices transmit neural (brain) signals which are processed and used to produce meaningful movement. Also, sensation of touch may be “felt” by stimulating the brain in tandem with the robotic arm grasping.

Placement of the arrays is temporary to evaluate their effectiveness. Therefore, there is no direct benefit to the participant. Information learned through this research study will support the development of a fully implantable neutrally controlled BMI system with movement and sensory capabilities for future generations of quadriplegics and amputees. Individuals are compensated for their research participation.

For more information about Brain Computer Interface Research at the University of Pittsburgh Rehab Neural Engineering Labs (RNEL), visit our website or call 412-383-1355.