Friday, 01 September 2017 09:23

Stroke patients 'improve' with brain-computer interface Featured

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Scientists at the University of Adelaide have used a brain-computer interface to treat stroke patients and report a 36% improvement in motor function of a stroke-damaged hand.

They said a "proof-of-principle" study had been conducted and the results published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.

The interface measures electrical signals from the brain on the surface of the scalp. Every time a subject imagines performing a specific motor function, for example grasping an object, the BCI takes those electrical signals and transmits them to a computer. 

An advanced mathematical algorithm then interprets the brain signals and supplies sensory feedback via a robotic manipulator.

"In the majority of strokes, the area of the brain that sends motor commands to the muscles becomes partly damaged and thereby degrades motor functions of the affected parts,” said Dr Sam Darvishi, who completed the work during his PhD in the

brain computer

University of Adelaide’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, under the supervision of Associate Professor Mathias Baumert and Professor Derek Abbott.

“During the early phases of motor learning (such as when we are toddlers) our brain and body learn how to work in harmony when the brain commands the target muscles and then receives feedback via seeing and feeling each body movement. After a stroke the brain needs to re-train the lost skills.

“BCIs have been proposed as an alternate therapy for stroke patients. They have shown some level of promise but, to date, haven’t been particularly effective.

“Our theory is that to achieve clinical results with BCIs we need to have the right feedback to the brain at the right time; we need to provide the same feedback that we receive during natural motor learning, when we are seeing and feeling the body’s movement. We also found there should be a short delay between the brain activation and the activation of target muscles.”

For the study, a specific BCI was designed to meet these requirements. In a single case study of one patient they achieved 36% improvement in hand motor function in just 10 training sessions of 30 minutes each.

“This was only a single patient so we can’t generalise the outcome to a whole stroke population,” says Dr Darvishi.

“However it certainly shows enough promise for a larger study of stroke patients to see if this could be a feasible therapy for stroke rehabilitation.

“This would be a major step towards helping stroke patients recover from debilitating damage.”

Photos: courtesy University of Adelaide

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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