UCSF, UC Berkeley team on brain repair devices

Researchers at University of California, San Francisco and UC Berkeley are joining forces to develop devices that would allow patients who have suffered from strokes, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and Lou Gehrig's disease to control prosthetics through thoughts alone. The investigators hope to develop neural prostheses that transmit communication signals from the brain directly to robotic arms, legs and computer cursors, circumventing damaged or missing neural circuits, according to a UCSF/UC Berkeley report.

The devices being developed at the Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses, which is based at both UC campuses. CNEP will bring together dozens of UCSF and UC Berkeley faculty and students in the fields of neuroscience, neurosurgery and engineering. Building on insights they have made in awake-brain surgery patients and in experimental animal models, the investigators expect to develop some of these devices for testing in clinical trials within the next few years.

"Our approach exploits the power of cortical plasticity and biofeedback, combined with smart machine learning algorithms, to let the brain learn to control the machine," explains CNEP co-director Jose Carmena, UC Berkeley assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, and a member of the Program in Cognitive Science, and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, in the schools' report. 

The center builds on UCSF discoveries that date back to the early 1970s, when the late Robin Michelson was one of three scientists to create and implant the first neural prosthetic, the cochlear implant, which remains the only neural prosthetic in commercial use.

- see the report