The human brain is our body’s ‘Command and Control Center’. It receives input from the sensory organs and sends output to the muscles. The neurons in between these two points relay messages. Since it is the main organ that controls all muscular activity after receiving signals, therefore, the correct working of this organ is of prime importance for the human body.
Imagine for a second there if this organ or any part of the nervous system stops working properly. What happens when paralysis of a part or the complete body occurs? What effect does nervous system related issues has on a person knowing that in most cases it cannot be reversed? Now imagine a time when this paralysis resulting from spinal cord injuries will just be a temporary obstacle and not a permanent one!
All this means a new life for people suffering from paralysis and nervous system related ailments. Artificial limbs that can send the user feedback about how hot or cold their cup of coffee is, or just how tightly they are holding their loved one’s hand is now a reality and not science fiction anymore. Temporary implants help individuals recover from a stroke or manage other debilitating neurological conditions. These seemingly impossible medical applications of new-age technology stand to be within reach for bi-directional brain-computer interfaces.
ARM Holdings plc is a British multinational semiconductor and software design company, owned by SoftBank Group headquartered in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Its primary business is in the design of ARM processors (CPUs), although it also designs software development tools under the DS-5, RealView, and Keil brands, as well as systems and platforms, system-on-a-chip (SoC) infrastructure and software. It dominates the market for processors in mobile phones (smartphones or otherwise) and tablet computers. The company is one of the best-known ‘Silicon Fen’ companies.
ARM and the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) at the University of Washington have signed an agreement on Wednesday, 17 May 2017 whereby the CSNE will develop a unique brain-implantable system-on-a-chip (SoC) for bi-directional brain-computer interfaces (BBCI) aimed at solving neurodegenerative disorders. Based at the University of Washington, the CSNE is a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center working to develop innovative ways to connect a deep computational understanding of how the brain adapts and processes information with the design of implantable devices.
One of the primary challenges facing prosthetic development today is the lack of sensory feedback. As we know that many organizations are developing smart hands that can see and “think” for themselves but the ability for a prosthetic attachment to transmit sensory information back to its user remains sadly insufficient compared to their biological counterparts. But that’s where ARM’s SoCs come in.
Peter Ferguson, ARM’s director of healthcare technologies has stated,
Working of Implants
These chips are designed to act as intermediaries. This means they will have to work between the brain and the prosthetic attachment. Their work will be to decode the complex signals emanating from the brain and transcribe them into digital signals that computers can understand, and vice versa. It’s a more permanent version of what researchers at Braingate2 and the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center have already developed. It’s also a more direct connection than what the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and Ossur created, both of which rely on the patient’s peripheral nervous system.
Dr. Scott Ransom, the CSNE’s Director of Industry Relations and Innovation, shared his thoughts about the collaboration:
“We are very excited to be collaborating with a company like ARM. ARM’s strong expertise in power-efficient microprocessors compliments the CSNE’s work in computational neuroscience and brain-computer interfacing, and we expect the partnership to lead to advances in not only medical technology but other applications as well, such as consumer electronics.”
This technology holds enormous promise. There are countless people out there who will benefit from this technology. Though there are still glitches that need to be worked on and many challenges facing this technology, ARM hopes that these chips will eventually be able to help patients suffering from everything from seizures to Parkinson’s disease, spinal injuries to strokes!
Although the technology is still in its development stages and is very basic, the idea is a great ray of hope for people suffering from various neurological diseases.