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Grant Funds Implanted Brain-Computer Spinal Injury Device

Motorized wheelchair

(Kevin Phillips, Pixabay)

21 Nov. 2022. A project to develop a brain-computer device to stimulate upper and lower limb movement in people with spinal cord injuries is receiving a €3.7 million award. The Auto-Adaptive Neuromorphic Brain Machine Interface project is a collaboration between the company Onward Medical N.V. in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne or EPFL in Switzerland, and the biomedical research institute CEA-Clinatec in Grenoble, France.

The initiative, abbreviated NEMO-BMI, seeks to create a fully implanted neuro-stimulation device that can help people with spinal cord injuries affecting both upper and lower limbs function more normally. Spinal cord injuries are often a result of traumatic blows to the spinal column that can disrupt nerve signaling to the rest of the body. Depending on the severity and location of the injury on the spinal column, people with these injuries can lose some or all ability to use or control their limbs, both arms and legs, and some organs.

The new device is adapting an implantable system of electrodes designed by CEA-Clinatec called WIMAGINE that records neural activity and transmits the data wirelessly to an external receiver. Onward Medical says the electrode array will be implanted in the brain and integrated with the company’s ARC-IM device, also an implantable system. The ARC-IM now delivers electronic pulses to the spinal cord to stimulate nerve signals for regaining movement in limbs in patients with spinal crowd injuries. Earlier this month, Science & Enterprise reported on a clinical trial of the ARC-IM that delivers electronic stimulation to a set of nerve cells that enables patients to restore their walking after rehabilitation.

Pathfinder grant from European Innovation Council

The new award for NEMO-BMI builds on a current project to integrate the ARC-IM hardware with the WIMAGINE electrode array. The new grant funds writing of algorithms embedded in the integrated implanted device to decode and interpret recorded neural activity in the brain — such as instructions to move one or more limbs —  then translate the signals into instructions for motor nerves and muscles in the limbs. The project’s goal is a small, functional device that can be easily produced and implanted.

The new €3.7 million Pathfinder grant is from the European Innovation Council’s challenge for technologies that transform human health from episodic care of illnesses to more proactive monitoring and adaption. Onward Medical says it will receive €1 million of that amount. The current project is also funded by a €3.6 million Pathfinder award in June 2022. The European Innovation Council or EIC is an organization of the European Commission.

The NEMO-BMI project received an early endorsement as first-place winner of an annual international prize for brain-computer interfaces. The prize, awarded last month by the BCI Award Foundation, attracted some 100 entries, with 12 finalists. The first-place award for 2021 is the Stentrode, an implanted electrode device developed in Australia and first reported in Science & Enterprise in Feb. 2016.

“The additional funding from EIC as well as the first place in the 2022 Brain-Computer Interface Awards,” says Onward Medical CEO Dave Marver in a company statement, “provide strong validation of the important work Onward and our partners are doing to advance the use of BCI to improve mobility.”

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