As I pondered what to post about on Pharyngula this week my thoughts immediately turned to football *wink* …which got me thinking spinal cord injuries (and no… not in the context of malice toward Drew Brees), which got me thinking of last year’s Distinguished Alumni speaker, physiatrist (and poet!) Jon Mukland ’80.
Dr. Mukland presented his research on the development of the BrainGate Neural Interface System– a program designed to interface victims of spinal cord injury with a computer. A silicon chip implanted in the motor cortex uses feedback from hundreds of probes to map electrical activity patterns associated with certain motor tasks. For example, if the patient is asked to imagine they are moving a computer screen cursor to the left, the implant records the pattern of electrical activity associated with that function. A computer is programed to interpret that activity and move the cursor left when it receives that input again. This is duplicated for other kinds of movement. The result is that a the patient is able to manipulate a computer cursor with his or her mind.
Dr. Mukland went on the describe the benefits of this system. The ability to manipulate a cursor independently, even in limited ways, opens up a host of quality of life opportunities for paralysis victims. Computer programs could be designed to allow patients to turn on appliances, use the internet, or communicate electronically. As the technology improves, the implications for improved quality of life increase dramatically.
I’ve never been so proud to be a UMMer :)