By Elizabeth Cook and Molly McCrea

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — It might seem like the stuff of science fiction but recently-created advances in technology now allow humans to directly control a device by simply thinking about it.

The invention is a new type of Brain Computer Interface (BCI) that uses electrocorticography (ECoG) signals to connect brains to electrical devices. Once surgically implanted, this device acquires your brain signals, and then translates them into commands that are able to control external devices like a bionic hand.

Its electrode array is about the size of a Post-It note, but don’t let its size fool you. It’s a technological wonder.

“It is a remarkable time in neuroscience and neural engineering,” said UCSF Neuroscientist and clinical neurologist Dr. Karunesh Ganguly, who is part of the team behind the advanced brain prosthesis.

The device holds promise for those with debilitating neurological disorders. Ganguly sees many patients with brain injuries or illness in his clinical practice.

“I see patients with stroke, ALS, muscular dystrophy and a whole range of disorders where we don’t have treatment for it. And they’re often paralyzed. They can’t move their arms or their legs,” Ganguly said.

The UCSF team tested it on a stroke patient and published their findings in Nature Biotechnology. In the report, they detailed how this BCI is improved from previous models as it uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to learn as your brain learns.

The neuroscientist explained existing systems need daily resets and frequent recalibrations. This one does not because it remembers what you learned. Dr. Ganguly calls it “plug and play”.

“So what our machine learning was doing. It was slowly tracking his brain activity and essentially co-learning. So, he’s learning. The system is learning. And they sort of work together in concert,” explained Dr. Ganguly.

Now UCSF is actively enrolling for the next step: an investigational clinical trial to test the device. To see if you qualify, click here: https://clinicaltrials.ucsf.edu/trial/NCT03698149

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