Scientist from Case Western Reserve University and the University of Kansas School of Medicine have found that the neuroprosthesis they developed, called a brain-machine-brain interface (BMBI) appears to restore behavior in brain injured rats. While the research is still developing, scientists hope that the results they have seen with the closed-loop microelectronic system will eventually lead to help for the millions of people suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The battery powered and lightweight micro device records signals in the healthy sensory part of the brain, bypasses the damaged area of the brain, and then translates the recorded signal into electrical impulses to stimulate the forelimbs. So, the device essentially restores the circuit of the brain to enable motor skills.
Randolph J. Nudo, Ph.D., neurobiologist said, “We’re basically trying to reproduce the process that the brain uses during development, and that it tries to accomplish after injury, but with electronic components that will artificially bridge these areas.” In the study, Nudo and his team implanted the neuroprosthesis in injured rats that had lost nearly all function. They were tested on their ability to reach for food pellets through a small opening in a Plexiglas chamber. With the device off, the rats struggled to retrieve the food pellets, succeeding just 25% of the time. But when the device was switched on they performed the task nearly 70% of the time, which was as well as the normal, uninjured rats.
David Guggenmos, Ph.D., said the results were amazing, "I almost hit the ceiling…It was one of the most exciting things I've seen since I've been in science." Dr. Nudo shared the excitement saying, “This was quite dramatic. I was so surprised. I have not seen anything like this. I’ve been in science about three decades and, and I have not seen anything quite so dramatic as this,” adding, "We think this is a game changer."
The next step in their research will be to design and build a device for testing on primates, to eventually use in clinical trials with humans. Dr. Nudo believes that there could be some cases where pricey and time-intensive rehabilitation could be bypassed with the brain prosthesis. Their research was funded by the Department of Defense Traumatic Brain Injury-Investigator-Initiated Research Award Program and the American Heart Association. Traumatic brain injuries are all too common in troops wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq so it is hoped that the team’s findings could be a step to develop treatment for soldiers with TBI, as well as stroke patients, and others with compromised brain function.