Professor Vivek Prabhakaran at the University of Wisconsin is developing a device that combines a brain-computer interface with electrical stimulation of damaged muscles to help stroke patients relearn how to move limbs. Eight patients who had lost movement in one hand have been through six weeks of therapy with the device. They reported improvements in their ability to complete daily tasks.
Patients wear a cap of electrodes that picks up brain signals. Those signals are decoded by a computer. The computer sends tiny jolts of electricity through wires to sticky pads placed on the muscles of a patient’s paralyzed arm. The jolts act like nerve impulses, telling the muscles to move. A video game prompts patients to try to hit a target by moving a ball with their affected arm. Patients practice with the game for two hours, every other day.
Researchers scanned the patients’ brains before, during and a month after they finished 15 sessions with the device. The more patients practiced, the more they were able to train their brains.