Traditionally, prosthetics were crude and simplistic. But things have changed considerably over time. Modern prosthetics are carefully engineered works of art. As per Dr. Curtis Cripe, with breakthroughs like neuroprosthetic limbs, there is even the potential for prosthetics to interface with the human brain. Much like its name suggests, neuroprosthetics tends to combine neural processing with prosthetics. Such devices interface with the human brain to control artificial limbs. It works via a brain-computer interface (BCI), or a brain-machine interface. By making use of a brain-computer interface, it is possible to control a computer using thoughts. Specific thoughts like moving or flexing a muscle, can create an electrical activity that in turn activates nerve cells as well as brainwaves.
Dr. Curtis Cripe briefly talks about neuroprosthetics
. Neuroprosthetics tends to represent a groundbreaking domain at the intersection of neuroscience, engineering, and medicine. It is focused on restoring lost or impaired neurological functions through artificial devices. Such devices help bridge the gap between the nervous system and external technology, providing hope and transformative solutions for individuals affected by various neurological conditions, injuries, or disabilities.
A brain-machine interface relies either on a chip implanted in the brain of the user or electrodes placed upon the scalp. This enables signals from the brain to be read by the prosthetic device itself. The BCI is an input/output device that bridges the brain and prosthetic devices. The same signals that would control an organic limb fire, and therefore perform the desired function. These signals can be sent via electrodes on the peripheral nerves, the surface of the brain and embedded within the brain. Based on the type of electrodes used, it would be a very simple process or rather quite an invasive implantation. One of the most notable applications of neuroprosthetics is in the realm of motor disabilities. Individuals with spinal cord injuries or conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) often face challenges in motor control and movement.
When it comes to neuroprosthetics, there is a directly proportional correlation between control and ease of application. For example, electrodes on the scalp are appropriate for simple controls like straightening and bending a knee. However, electrodes implanted in a brain, or intraparenchymal electrodes would be required to enjoy greater fine motor control like the ability to control the arm and drink from a cup. There is also electrocorticography (ECoG) that provides a means of recording brain activity with the help of electrodes placed upon the surface of the cortex. It is comparatively less invasive than an electrode implanted into the brain but boasts more control than electrodes on the scalp.
As Dr. Curtis Cripe points out, in the domain of sensory impairments, neuroprosthetics have made notable strides. Cochlear implants, a form of auditory neuroprosthetic, for instance, help in restoring hearing function in individuals who have profound hearing loss by directly stimulating the auditory nerve. In a similar manner, retinal implants aim to restore vision by stimulating the optic nerve, offering hope to those affected by retinal degenerative diseases like retinitis pigmentosa. Furthermore, neuroprosthetic research is exploring avenues to decode and interpret neural signals for cognitive and communication purposes.