Brain-Computer Interface – Highlights from Brain Works 2013

Excerpt from Brain Works 2013, a free community event from Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Register for our next brain innovation event at:

In this portion of the Brain Works presentation, neurosurgeons Dr. Eric Leuthardt and Dr. Albert Kim discuss brain-computer interfaces and the future of medicine. To fix the brain after it has been injured, not only do we need to know what causes the problem. We need to understand the brain well enough to essentially create replacement parts once it has been broken. That is called a brain-computer interface.

If somebody has a spinal cord injury or a stroke, a brain-computer interface may someday allow them to recover function.

The brain-computer interface has two parts: decoding the brain’s signal and then transmitting that signal to a machine that can move or do a number of things. In Dr. Leuthardt’s lab, one patient with electrodes placed on the surface of his brain to treat epilepsy learned to play video games using imagined movements. In fact, he became so good at Space Invaders that he is now in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest score in a video game, using his brain to control the video game.

But you don’t need to open up the skull and place electrodes on the brain to see the brain-computer interface at work. With devices like the NeuroSky MindWave headset, you can use theta waves (brainwaves associated with attention) to play a number of games. Dr. Leuthardt is co-creator of one of these games, a mobile application called BrainCopter, which allows players to fly a virtual helicopter using their mind.

At Barnes-Jewish Hospital, a clinical trial for stroke rehabilitation using brain-computer interface is underway to help patients with certain deficits (like a paralyzed hand) control orthotics using a headset, allowing them to opens and close their hand again. For one of Dr. Leuthardt’s spinal cord injury patients, a brain-computer interface helped him control a robotic arm and touch his wife for the first time in nearly three years after sustaining his injury.