Breakthrough in The First Clinical Study of Implanted Brain Interface in China

At the 2020 CES conference, start-up NextMind’s research was interesting, claiming to be developing a real-time brain-machine interface that converts signals from the brain’s visual cortex into digital commands that machines can read, so that we can control devices such as computers, AR/VR glasses, and so on through the visual signals from the brain, which means that thinking will become possible instead of hands.

Now there is a real case for this study.

China’s first successful clinical study of implantable brain interface

On January 16th, Zhejiang University officially announced the results of the “Double Brain Plan”, in which volunteers implanted with electrodes can precisely control the movement of external robotic arms and robots using the signals of the brain’s motor cortex to achieve three-dimensional motion, and proved that complex and effective motion control is feasible for elderly patients using the implanted brain interface.

Breakthrough in The First Clinical Study of Implanted Brain Interface in China

Photo Source: Zhejiang University Owner: Zhejiang University

The so-called brain interface is to establish a direct transmission of brain instructions between the brain and external devices such as the prosthesis, to achieve in the spinal cord and motor neural pathways damaged but the brain cortex function is still sound, the brain signal can also be interpreted through the computer, direct control of external devices.

Depending on the degree of implantation, BCI is divided into non-implantation, semi-implantation and implantation.

Non-implantable (Non-BBCI), a device that detects signals outside the skull;

Semi-implanted (partial dedly BCI), a device placed to receive signals on the surface of the cerebral cortex;

Implantation (invasive BCI), a device that implants sensors into brain tissue to obtain signals, including through cranial surgery.

All three have advantages and disadvantages, and overall, the higher the degree of brain implantation on the BCI device, the greater the risk.

Mr. Zhang, a 72-year-old retired teacher, was a volunteer who took the clinical transformation study on brain-computer interfaces. He, who was supposed to be able to retire and enjoy his old age, became a high-level paraplegic two years ago after suffering severe neck and spinal injuries in an accidental car accident.

Fortunately, the car accident did not damage the old man’s brain. At the end of August, Mr. Zhang successfully completed the country’s first open skull under precise positioning, performing surgery to implant the Utah array electrode into the motor cortex that controls the movement of the right upper extremity.

After 4 months of training, Mr. Zhang realized the idea of controlling the robot arm to complete the handshake, drinking water, eating and other movements. Also able to control the computer mouse to play mahjong game.

At present, the internationally reported implantable brain interface patients, are middle and young people. They are also relatively more robust in terms of physical strength, attention, emotional coordination, and older people are weaker.

Mr. Zhang has thus become the world’s highest age patient to successfully utilize implantable brain interface technology to reconstruct limb movement function.

In addition to eating, drinking, socializing and entertaining, this latest development will help paralysed people rebuild their motor functions to improve their quality of life.

How to achieve the idea of the object?

Understanding the brain-computer interface of children’s shoes may be more clear, brain interface in the past has been a successful experiment in speech synthesis, in the way of brain-computer interface, to capture brain waves, and then to achieve the purpose of typing, and then to carry out speech synthesis output, compared to the idea of controlling things is simply a difficult task.

Therefore, the realization of zhejiang University’s research can simply be recorded in the history books, lasted 8 years, from animal simulation to the real realization of brain-computer interaction, their efforts can be imagined.

In 2006, the Zhejiang University team implemented an “animal navigation system” where electrodes were implanted into the brains of rats. Through brain-computer interaction, let the rat follow the “instructions” to turn left and right, climb the stairs, around the “8” word, and even jump on the platform more than 30 cm high.

In 2012, the team implanted a microelectrode array in the monkey’s brain, using computer information technology to successfully extract and decode the monkey’s brain’s neural signals about grasping, hooking, holding, and pinching four gestures, allowing the monkey to directly control the external robotic arm through “mindfulness”.

In 2014, the Zhejiang University team began to implant the cortex brain electro-microelectrodes in the human brain, to achieve “idea” control robot to complete the difficult “stone, scissors, cloth” finger movement, creating the first in the country at that time.

However, the clinical application in 2014 was to “cover” an electrode (the electroencephalogram electrode) on the surface of the patient’s cerebral cortex, which itself is not inserted into the inside of the cerebral cortex and is a semi-implantable operation that opens the skull but does not insert the cortex, and does not detect the discharge of a single neuron.

The successful experiment, Mr. Zhang is the microelectrode array directly into the brain motor cortex, can detect the discharge of individual neurons, the acquisition of signals more direct, stable and rich.

And it’s never easy to do this.

Because the neurons in the cerebral cortex are divided into 6 layers, the electrodes are implanted to the 5th layer, and this difficulty factor is not at all the range of the people who eat melons.

In order to reduce the error, Zhejiang University’s research team used a surgical robot with a step diameter of 0.1 mm to accurately send two electrodes into a given position, with an error of less than 0.5 mm.

Breakthrough in The First Clinical Study of Implanted Brain Interface in China

Photo Source: Zhejiang University Second Academy Owner: Zhejiang University Second Academy

There are 100 electrode pins on a 4mm x 4mm microelectrode array, each of which may detect one or more neuronal cell discharges. The other end of the electrode is connected to a computer that records nerve signals from the brain in real time.

After implanting the electrodes, the hardest step is how to achieve “mind control”.

Hundreds of billions of neurons in the human brain communicate with each other by emitting tiny electrical impulses, thus giving instructions to the human body’s every move, in order to achieve mind control, it is necessary to collect and decode the human brain nerve electrical signals within the scope of electrode detection, and match the different electrical signal characteristics with the action of the robot arm.

Breakthrough in The First Clinical Study of Implanted Brain Interface in China

Photo Source: Zhejiang University Second Academy Owner: Zhejiang University Second Academy

Because the brain interface technology also relies on the characteristics of the patient’s brain electrical signal and machine algorithm design, there is no unified standardized signal acquisition, decoding and other analytical means, that is, can not be directly used analytical means.

Therefore, Zhejiang University researchers introduced nonlinear, neural network algorithm, for Lao Zhang proposed a set of targeted solutions.

Using step-by-step training methods, first let Lao Zhang on the computer screen to manipulate the mouse, and then practice commanding the robot arm to complete the upper and lower left and right, such as 9 directions of the action, and finally simulate the handshake, drinking water, eating and other actions, which let us see the idea of manipulating the mechanical “magic” change.

The brain-computer interface has a long way to go.

While the realization of new technologies is welcome, the resulting concerns will follow.

The recent uproar over the cause of speculation has been widely questioned over issues such as “monitoring students”, “violating the original intention of education” and “suspected collection of student privacy data”.

Therefore, the brain interface technology development, that is, to some people bring hope and expectations, but also some people fear. A survey of people in the United States has found that brain-computer interfaces are more worrying than gene editing.

The reason sym’s case was this:

“Since the brain-machine interface can provide the possibility of a return to walking for wounded or paralysed soldiers, help paralysed patients use their consciousness to type, or can ‘restore’ perception to amputee patients with bionic limbs, these BCI functions are still useful once the brain is ‘invaded’ – manipulating others or … Murder. “

After all, we know most of the brain.