The Birch Memorial Lecture: Cognitive Neural Prosthetics to Overcome Brain and Spinal Cord Injury

 Richard A. Andersen, Caltech

Richard A. Andersen, Caltech

Richard A. Andersen, PhD Abstract & Learning Objectives: Neural prosthetics are designed to assist patients paralyzed from spinal cord injury, peripheral neuropathies, and stroke. Neural activity is recorded and decoded to determine the subjects’ intent, which can then be used to control assistive devices such as robots or computers. Initial proofs of concept can be traced back to studies in animals as early as the late 1950s and early 1960s. At the turn of this century there have been a handful of clinical studies in humans in which implants of arrays of microelectrodes were made in the motor cortex of tetraplegic participants. On the other hand, posterior parietal cortex (PPC) provides high-order intent signals to motor cortex that are then used by motor cortex to control the muscles. We reasoned that the high-level intent signals of PPC could be easily interpreted by “smart” robotic systems, enhancing the versatility and intuitiveness of brain control. In the course of PPC recordings with tetraplegic humans we have uncovered remarkable cognitive features that we have used for prosthetic control. Imagined goals and sequences can be decoded extremely rapidly, both sides of the body are represented which promises bilateral control, and complete hand shapes are encoded by single neurons allowing grasp control with very few cells. Individual finger movements are well represented and have even allowed a subject to perform brain controlled typing on a virtual keyboard and playing a simple melody on a virtual piano. Neurons are selective for very high order cognitive features such as both imagined and observed movements, and the representation of numerical quantities and simple mathematical operations. These wide-ranging findings point to future advanced neuroprosthetic applications in which PPC and other cognitive cortical areas are tapped for the unique cognitive variables they represent. Through attending this lecture, attendees will: Learn how neural prosthetics can help people with paralysis Learn what distinguishes a motor prosthetic from a cognitive prosthetic Understand how touch sensation is important for manipulation of objects with the hand and how this sensory feedback might be recreated for people with paralysis and loss of somesthesis. Speaker Biography: Richard Andersen, the James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience at Caltech, studies neural mechanisms of sight, hearing, balance, touch, and action, and the development of neural prosthetics. Andersen obtained a Ph.D. from the University of California, San Francisco and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Johns Hopkins Medical School. He was a faculty member of the Salk Institute and MIT before coming to Caltech. Andersen is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is recipient of a McKnight Foundation Scholars Award, a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, Visiting Professor at the College de France, and the Spencer Award from Columbia University. He has served as Director of the McDonnell/Pew Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT, and the Sloan-Swartz Center for Theoretical Neurobiology at Caltech, as well as being a member or chair of various government advisory committees. Celebrating 50 Years-Binding the Past and Present