Brain implant may prove promising for paralysis

Developers at the University of Michigan have created an implant that uses the body’s skin like a conductor to wirelessly transmit brain signals to a computer, which the researchers believe the technology is one step forward for reactivating paralyzed limbs.

About the size of a dime, the implant, dubbed “BioBolt,” is unlike other neural interface technologies, according to developers. It is minimally invasive, uses little power, and is completely covered by the skin, according to principal investigator Euisik Yoon, associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. Additionally, he noted, BioBolt doesn’t penetrate the cortex.

The implant is currently unrealistic for use in a patient's daily life, according to Kensall D. Wise, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., because the skull must remain open while the implants are in the head. However, researchers are optimistic that the technology will one day allow “a paralyzed patient to ‘think’ a movement.”

“The ultimate goal is to be able to reactivate paralyzed limbs,” said Wise.

In addition to paralyzed individuals, researchers said the implant could also help patients with epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease as well.

BioBolt is designed to be implanted in the skull beneath the skin and a “film of microcircuits” sits on the brain. The microcircuits pick up patterns of firing neurons and associate them with specific commands. The signals are then amplified, filtered and converted to digital signals which are transmitted through the skin to a computer, according to Yoon.

Although the implant itself requires low power by using the skin as a conductor, researchers noted a challenge is the high power required to transmit data from the brain to an outside source.

Last updated on June 17, 2011 at 8:42 pm EST