Consortium to develop a fully implantable brain-computer interface to enable communication for people with paralysis

The project will push the boundaries of real-time brain-to-speech decoding with artificial intelligence algorithms and a miniaturized wireless device.

Geneva, Switzerland – Research consortium led by UMC Utrecht Brain Center (Netherlands) in collaboration with Graz University of Technology (Austria), Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering (Switzerland) and CorTec (Germany) to receive grant under the EIC Pathfinder Challenge mechanism.

The researchers aim to develop a unique, fully implantable brain-computer interface (BCI) system for people with interlock syndrome (LIS) – a condition in which paralysis severely limits communication. The BCI will be unprecedented in its small size, wireless and induction powered and therefore will not require batteries. Suitable for home use, it will be able to decode speech in real time to allow people with LIS to communicate with their family and caregivers.

The project will further develop the Wyss Center’s fully implantable wireless ABILITY system to connect to custom electrocorticography (ECoG) electrode arrays, developed by CorTec, that detect brain signals from the surface of the brain. The ambitious schedule aims for full development and verification of the implants in the first two years of the project, with the next two years focusing on clinical studies and algorithm improvements to restore communication in confined patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or stroke.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease in which people gradually lose the ability to move and speak, eventually all means of communication are lost, leaving patients isolated. Brainstem stroke can render people unable to speak or move without recovery.

“As a first step, to allow patients to interact with the system, we will implement the decoding of mouse clicks and the control of the cursor from the desired movements, which we have demonstrated the feasibility in previous research” , explains Professor Gernot Müller. -Putz, director of the Institute of Neural Engineering and its associated laboratory for brain-computer interfaces at Graz University of Technology.

“Our BCI system will go far beyond current technology,” says Professor Nick Ramsey of the UMC Utrecht Brain Center in the Netherlands, who is coordinating the project. “We want to create a durable, high-resolution BCI by combining state-of-the-art hardware and software based on artificial intelligence (AI).”

“This new project builds on promising preliminary data from our clinical study enabling communication with a fully enclosed participant, and our currently ongoing preclinical study with the wireless implantable device ABILITY.” said Dr. Jonas Zimmermann, senior neuroscientist at the Wyss Center. “In this project, we will record from a larger area of ​​the brain and explore new decoding algorithms that have the potential to address important clinical and social needs for people with ALS, but also for those suffering from other neurological conditions that impede movement and communication.”

Dr. Tracy Laabs, Director of Development at the Wyss Center, is delighted: “After several years of prototype development, this project will allow us to take the last crucial steps that will bring our system to the patient.”

The research project “Intracranial Neurotelemetry to Restore Communication” (INTRECOM) is part of the EIC Pathfinder Challenge program in which the European Innovation Council supports visionary and enterprising researchers who have bold ideas for radically new technologies. Swiss participants receive support from the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).