According to news releases from both Intel and Brown University they have partnered in the hopes of developing technology to help those with spinal cord injuries walk again.
Injuries to the spinal cord can prevent the electrical signals from the brain from passing to the muscles, causing paralysis. These kind of injuries are devastating and permanent as the human body cannot regenerate severed nerve fibers by itself. But researchers believe AI technologies may be able to help some to regain control of their muscles.
Thanks to funding from a $6.3 million DARPA grant, Brown University Researchers along with surgeons from Rhode Island Hospital are partnering with Intel and Micro-Leads Medical to develop an “intelligent spinal interface”. The idea is to build an interface capable of bypassing the damage caused by an injury, by establishing a new link between the brain and the rest of the body.
As the Brown statement explains, “The experimental spinal interface will be designed to bridge the gap in neural circuitry created by a spinal injury (…) The idea is to record signals traveling down the spinal cord above an injury site and use them to drive electrical spinal stimulation below the lesion. At the same time, information coming up the cord from below will be used to drive stimulation above the injury. The device could potentially help to restore both volitional control of limbs muscles as well as feeling and sensation lost due to injury”
The researchers need to collect a large amount of data for motor and sensory signals sent from the spinal cord and use AI neural networks to communicate the correct commands. Intel will offer its hardware and software expertise to help create the machine learning tools that are needed for this project.
“A spinal cord injury is devastating, and little is known about how remaining circuits around the injury may be leveraged to support rehabilitation and restoration of lost function,” Said David Borton, assistant professor at Brown’s School of Engineering and researcher at Carney Institute for Brain Science. “Listening for the first time to the spinal circuits around the injury and then taking action in real time with Intel’s combined AI hardware and software solutions will uncover new knowledge about the spinal cord and accelerate innovation toward new therapies.”
According to estimates from The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center 291,000 people in the U.S. are living with spinal cord injuries, and more than 17,000 new cases are added to that number every year. Over 30% of those spinal cord injuries result in tetraplegia or paraplegia.
The team on this DARPA funded project is committed for the next two years. Saying they will work with volunteers who have spinal cord injuries, having them participate in physical therapy with the interface in use for up to 29 days. The team says the initial focus will be on signals related to leg control and the signals related to bladder control.
Header Image by Intel