The so-called stentrode is designed to relay thoughts wirelessly to an external robotic device, such as an exoskeleton or prosthetic limb, to enable patient-directed brain control over movement and locomotion. It’s part of a growing field of robotics for human augmentation, which the McKinsey Global Institute predicted in 2013 could assist more than 50 million people with impaired mobility in the developed world, and yield economic benefits of as much as $2 trillion a year by 2025.
“Our aim is to return mobility, independence and communication to some of these men and women,” Opie said. “We are using the device to extract information that has already been generated by the brain and to bypass the damaged nerves.”
While the approach is less invasive than brain surgery, its potential to tap neural signals may be limited by its placement, since it can only be implanted in blood vessels large enough to support the stent, said Newton Howard, professor of computational neurosciences and neurosurgery at the University of Oxford in England. The stent dilates to 4 millimeters.
“A successful technology should be more versatile in that it can be implanted anywhere in the brain, not just along preexisting vasculature,” Howard said in an email.
There is also at least a theoretical risk of the device causing blockages and, therefore, increasing the risk of stroke, he said, adding that this may see the device deemed inappropriate or “contraindicated” for individuals predisposed to the condition.
“Rather than this overtaking present technology, I believe this will become a staple of the upcoming generation of brain-computer interface technology,” said Howard, who is also chairman of the Brain Sciences Foundation and studies the development of functional brain and neuron interfacing. “The stentrode is fundamentally different from other technology.”
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