We’ve written many times about about brain computer interfaces (BCIs) that enable persons with motor impairment to control a prothesis or even gain a sense of touch via a prosthesis. One of the greatest drawbacks of brain implants, however, is the use of invasive implant procedures. According to a Mayo Clinic report, “Brain-Computer Interfaces in Medicine” published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, electrode arrays that collect signals of patient intent typically require neurosurgical implementation by either boring a hole in the skull or open-brain surgery.
New York-based Synchron recently announced a successful BCI implantation using an endovascular approach via the jugular vein. Shahram Majidi, an assistant professor of neurosurgery, neurology, and radiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai West performed the surgery in the hospital’s angiography suite. The key to Synchron’s BCI is the Stentrode, an endovascular electrode array that is similar to the stents used in hundreds of thousands of coronary interventions every year in the US alone.
A Stentrode implanted in the wall of a blood vessel can record or stimulate the brain or the blood vessel nerves. The device includes tiny electrodes that are then attached to a wire that remains in the jugular vein and connects to a Bluetooth transmitter implanted in the patient’s upper chest. The transmitter can then send signals to a prosthetic device via a smartphone, tablet, or other digital computer. According to Synchron CEO Ted Oxley in the TED Talk linked to this post, the blood vessel grows over the Stentrode so the host body’s immune system doesn’t cause problems trying to defend against it.
The FDA granted Synchron an investigational device exception to conduct the trial test, according to the Synchron news release. Oxley says the Stentrode development process took ten years to get to the current stage, and it now has the potential to help millions of people who have lost motor control due to illness or stroke. Compared to the current alternative BCI designs, the relative simplicity of the procedure makes it much less invasive and are far more surgeons who can perform endovascular implants than the neurosurgery required for traditional approaches. Synchron’s Stentrode BCI implant is a huge advance for BCI technology.