Abbott joins NIH's BRAIN Initiative to explore neuromodulation research

The project will complement Abbott's in-house research efforts to help validate its neuromodulation therapies. (Abbott)

Abbott has signed on to the wide-ranging neuroscience project run by the National Institutes of Health, pledging to provide its neuromodulation tech for the public-private research effort.

The medtech giant’s offerings in directional deep brain stimulation, spinal cord stimulation and dorsal root ganglion therapy, among others, will be explored by the NIH BRAIN Initiative for applications in neuropsychiatric conditions, chronic pain and disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

"The neuromodulation technologies provided by Abbott will help us determine the inner workings of the nervous system to help fill gaps in our current knowledge of the brain and provide opportunities for exploring how the brain interacts with the human body in patients with neurological conditions,” Nick Langhals, Ph.D., a program director for neural engineering at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), said in a statement.

Launched in 2013, the BRAIN Initiative—for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies—counts participation from several federal agencies, including the FDA, the National Science Foundation and DARPA, as well as nonfederal foundations, research institutes and universities. Its industry partners include GE, Boston Scientific, GlaxoSmithKline, Google, Medtronic and more.

"In addition to our own research efforts, including clinical and real-world studies, working together with world-class scientists at the NIH will help us further validate our neuromodulation therapies and explore new avenues where they may benefit patients affected by devastating neurological conditions," said Abbott’s vice president of neuromodulation, Keith Boettiger.

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Neurological diseases affect over 100 million people in the U.S., a number that is expected to rise in the coming decades with age being a contributing factor.

A recent BRAIN Initiative-funded project was able to translate brain signals from epilepsy patients into speech, which could lead to improvements in quality of life and communication for paralyzed patients. Speech scientists and neurologists from the University of California, San Francisco, recreated many vocal sounds with varying accuracy using brain signals recorded from patients with normal speaking abilities.

As they spoke full sentences, the brain data was used to drive computer-generated speech. In addition, miming the act of speaking provided enough information for the computer to recreate several of the same sounds, they found.

The researchers are planning a clinical trial involving paralyzed, speech-impaired patients to explore the best ways to gather brain signal data and apply them to the trained computer algorithm, the NIH said.

“This study combines state-of-the-art technologies and knowledge about how the brain produces speech to tackle an important challenge facing many patients,” said NINDS program director Jim Gnadt, Ph.D. “This is precisely the type of problem that the NIH BRAIN Initiative is set up to address: to use investigative human neuroscience to impact care and treatment in the clinic.”