With $6.3 million in DARPA funding, Intel, Brown and other partners will work on building the AI-driven hardware and software needed to treat spinal cord injuries.
Researchers from Brown University and Intel Corp. are working together to develop new artificial intelligence-based technologies aimed at helping victims of spinal injuries walk again.
When someone suffers an injury to the spinal cord, the electrical signals from the brain can no longer pass to the muscles, which leads to paralysis. Such injuries are devastating because the human body cannot regenerate severed nerve fibers by itself. But medical professionals believe that AI technologies could help some victims to regain control of their muscles.
Now, backed by a $6.3 million grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the researchers from Brown University and Intel are embarking on a two-year effort to create those technologies.
“We know that circuits around a spinal lesion often remain active and functional,” said David Borton, an assistant professor at Brown’s School of Engineering and a researcher at the University’s Carney Institute for Brain Science.
Borton’s idea is to try to create an “intelligent spinal interface” that could help reconnect the brain to the spinal cord, and restore limb movement and bladder control in people who’ve suffered such injuries. He noted that bladder control is one of the major concerns of people with spinal injuries.
“This exploratory study aims to build the toolset — the mix of hardware, software and functional understanding of the spinal cord — to make such a system possible,” he said.
Physicians from Rhode Island Hospital and Micro Leads Inc., a company that has developed high-resolution spinal cord simulation technology, will also be taking part in the research effort.
Intel will lend its expertise in hardware and software to help build machine learning tools needed to decode signals sent from the brain to the spine. Essentially the idea is to create an interface that can bypass the site of an injury and restore the severed connection between the brain and the rest of the body. The researchers will then gather data on motor and sensory signals sent from the spinal cord and use artificial neural networks to communicate the right motor commands.
The data will be gathered from implants in volunteers with spinal injuries while they participate in physical therapy sessions. The spine signals will be decoded by an external computer system in this part of the study, with an eye to developing a fully implantable device that can do this in real time.
Analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. told SiliconANGLE the initiative is yet another example of the wonders technology can for mankind.
“A lot of expectation and potential is related to the rise of artificial intelligence,” Mueller said. “Today is the turn of Intel and Brown using Darpa funding to learn how to model the human spine’s neural and mechanical workings in an artificial intelligence model. The underlying basic research will have a lot of potential to address spinal injuries and wear and tear. Exciting times ahead.”
Source: Mike Wheatley, SiliconANGLE