Posts Tagged Bionics
Advances in the control of prosthetic arms, or even exoskeletal arms, continue to amaze. Yet someone with a severe neck injury doesn’t need any such device since the greatest arm they could imagine is sitting right there hanging off their shoulder — but unable to perform. Efforts to control an artificial arm may seem impotent to these folks, when a bridge spanning just a couple centimeters of scar tissue in the spinal column can not even be made. A way forward is now taking shape at Case Western University in Ohio. Researchers there are gearing up to combine the Braingate cortical chip developed at Brown University with their own Functional Electric Stimulation (FES) platform.
It has long been known that electrical stimulation can directly control muscles. The problem is that it is fairly inaccurate, and can be painful or damaging. Stimulating the nerves directly using precisely positioned arrays is a much better approach. One group of Case Western researchers recently demonstrated a remarkable device called a nerve cuff electrode that can be placed around small segments of nerve. They used the cuff to provide an interface for sending data from sensors in the hand back to the brain using sensory nerves in the arm. With FES, the same kind of cuff electrode can also be used to stimulate nerves going the other direction, in other words, to the muscles.
The difficulty in such a scheme, is that even if the motor nerves can be physically separated from the sensory nerves and traced to specific muscles, the exact stimulation sequences needed to make a proper movement are hard to find. To achieve this, another group at Case Western has developed a detailed simulation of how different muscles work together to control the arm and hand. Their model consists of 138 muscle elements distributed over 29 muscles, which act on 11 joints. The operational procedure is for the patient to watch the image of the virtual arm while they naturally generate neural commands that the BrainGate chip picks up to move the arm. (In practice, this means trying to make the virtual arm touch a red spot to make it turn green.) Currently in clinical trials, the Braingate2 chip has an array of 96 hair-thin electrodes that is used to stimulate a small region of motor cortex.
The trick here is not just to find any sequence that gets the arm from point A to point B, but to find sequences similar to those that real arms actually use in particular tasks. This is important because each muscle has not only a limited contraction range, but also a limited range where it can actually deliver significant force, and generate feedback signals about those forces. When muscles contract they obviously change shape, but less obvious perhaps, is that their shape at any given moment affects how the other muscles leverage the joints they work. Just as important is the effect of the opposing muscles that control counter movements.
Few movements that we make, even low-force movements, consist of pure contractions of the active muscle and pure inhibition of the opposing muscle. In actuality, muscle units on both sides can be firing in alternating bursts to quickly ratchet joint angles open, particularly when the vector of end-point movement is oblique to the axes of individual arm segments. In other words, even in a simple movement like a bench press, both the biceps and triceps generate forces alternately at various points in the lift, despite the fact that the weight rises uniformly in the upward direction.
If artificial methods of control are going to be used for flesh-and-blood systems, particularly ones that have been idle for some time, overstimulation (or mis-stimulation) when lifting anything even slightly heavy is something to be guarded against. Many sports injuries, such as those in older people performing unfamiliar moves, happen not because they reach too far or too hard, but because their nervous system is not sufficiently practiced to be able to protect the muscle.
While no model for limb movement can be perfect, for the majority of everyday tasks, close may be good enough. The eventual plan is that the patient and the control algorithm will learn together in tandem so that the training screen will not be needed at all. At that point, we might say that Case Western will have a pretty slick interface to offer.
[ARTICLE] Electrical Stimulation of the Brain and the development of Cortical Visual Prostheses: An Historical Perspective – Full Text HTML/PDF
- We revisit the discovery of visual cortex and of the brain’s electrical excitability.
- We detail early experiences with electrical stimulation of visual cortex.
- Subsequent attempts to develop a cortical visual prosthesis are explored.
- We detail the development of technologies critical to current prosthesis designs.
Rapid advances are occurring in neural engineering, bionics and the brain-computer interface. These milestones have been underpinned by staggering advances in micro-electronics, computing, and wireless technology in the last three decades. Several cortically-based visual prosthetic devices are currently being developed, but pioneering advances with early implants were achieved by Brindley followed by Dobelle in the 1960s and 1970s. We have reviewed these discoveries within the historical context of the medical uses of electricity including attempts to cure blindness, the discovery of the visual cortex, and opportunities for cortex stimulation experiments during neurosurgery. Further advances were made possible with improvements in electrode design, greater understanding of cortical electrophysiology and miniaturization of electronic components. Human trials of a new generation of prototype cortical visual prostheses for the blind are imminent.
Advances in medicine, surgery and electronics have set the stage for a fusion of the physical and biological sciences; one in which prosthetic devices may restore lost functional capacity to the disabled. The emerging field of neuro-prosthetics embodies the totality of this integration, whereby sensory (Carlson et al., 2012, Guenther et al., 2012 and Weiland and Humayun, 2014), motor (Hochberg et al., 2012) and even cognitive (Hampson et al., 2012 and Hampson et al., 2013) deficits may be addressed. A significant share of the worldwide research effort in this regard is directed towards the development of visual prosthetics for the blind. Potential stimulation targets currently being investigated for visual prostheses include the retina (Chow et al., 2004, Dorn et al., 2013, Gerding et al., 2007 and Stingl et al., 2013), optic nerve (Brelen et al., 2010, Sakaguchi et al., 2009 and Wu et al., 2010), lateral geniculate body (Panetsos et al., 2011 and Pezaris and Eskandar, 2009) and the cerebral cortex (Brindley and Lewin, 1968b, Dobelle, 2000 and Schmidt et al., 1996). Human testing of implanted cortical electrode arrays for the evocation of visual percepts predates similar attempts at the retinal level by almost 30 years (Brindley and Lewin, 1968b, Humayun et al., 1996 and Humayun et al., 1999). Moreover, visual cortical prostheses offering limited functionality were chronically implanted in a number of patients throughout the 1970’s (Brindley, 1982, Dobelle et al., 1976 and Dobelle et al., 1979). Two retinal devices recently obtained regulatory approval in Europe (Argus II and Alpha IMS), with the Argus II also having obtained regulatory approval in the US (Weiland and Humayun, 2014). Cortical devices remain experimental only. Imminent human trials of a new generation of improved cortical devices render it timely to review the history of their development, including early electrical stimulation of human cerebral cortex and the first pioneering attempts to restore visual sensation to a profoundly blind person over 50 years ago.