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Welcome to a high-level overview of some specific

NPTL research interests


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Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are also referred to as brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) and cortical neural prostheses.  Our particular focus is on creating new types of communication interfaces, and advancing their performance such that they are useful to people, by working directly with participants attempting to make rapid, dexterous motor sequences. This is done as part of the BrainGate2 multi-site clinical trial (BrainGate2: Feasibility study of an intracortical neural interface system for persons with tetraplegia (NCT00912041),, Timeline of some key BrainGate publications).

We investigate the underlying, fundamental human neuroscience (e.g., neural-population information representation and computations, often through the lens of dynamical systems) and fundamental engineering designs (e.g., machine-learning based decoder algorithms).  Our goals are to:

  1. Measure voltage signals from large numbers of neurons simultaneously (i.e., action potentials from hundreds of individual neurons)
  2. Do so with intra-cortical (neuro-surgically placed) electrode arrays where each electrode is mere microns from each neuron and thus maximum-available neural information is measured, in order to then
  3. Deeply understand this neural information (basic systems and computational neuroscience) and
  4. To then create and demonstrate principled, high-speed and highly-accurate neural decoding algorithms that drive "high-bandwidth" communication between a person with paralysis (e.g., tetraplegia [1], anarthria [2]) and multiple computer and smart-home devies (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, computers, environmental control systems, doors).

Current projects include the fundamental neuroscience of highly-dexterous, human-only movement sequences and the design and system validation of high-performance and highly-robust communication BCIs. Some recent publications arising from our research projects:

  1. Generate text to help restore communication by decoding attempted handwriting: "Brain-to-Text BCIs" (Willett et al. Nature 2021 pdf).
  2. Generate speech to help restore communication by decoding attempted speech: "Brain-to-Speech BCIs" (Stavisky et al. eLife 2019 pdf, Stavisky et al. J Neural Eng 2020 pdf, Wilson*, Stavisky* et al. J Neural Eng 2020 pdf).
  3. Generate full body (both arms, both legs) control signals to help restore arm and leg movements: "Full-body BCIs" (Willett*, Deo* et al. Cell 2020 pdf)
  4. Control of 2D point-and-click cursors to help restore computer, tablet and phone operation: "2D point-and-click BCIs" (Pandarinath*, Nuyujukian* et al. eLife 2017 pdf; Nuyujukian et al. PLoS One 2018 pdf).
  5. Fundamental neuroscience investigations of these uniquely human, high-speed and highly-dexterous movement sequences employing single-neuron resolution ensemble recordings, experiments and analyses (e.g. Vyas et al. Ann Rev Neurosci 2020 pdfAnn Rev Neurosci 2013 pdf).

Our projects are generously supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) NIDCD, NINDS and BRAIN Initiative, the Simons Foundation, HHMI, the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and the Bio-X Institute.

[1] Tetraplegia (sometimes referred to as quadriplegia) is a term used to describe the inability to voluntarily move the upper and lower parts of the body. The areas of impaired mobility usually include the fingers, hands, arms, chest, legs, feet and toes and may or may not include the head, neck, and shoulders. This is caused by upper spinal cord injury (SCI), brainstem stroke and other neurological diseases and injuries.

[2] Anarthria is a severe form of dysarthria. Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder that occurs when someone can't coordinate or control the muscles used for speaking. People with dysarthria usually have slurred or slowed speech. People with anarthria, however, can't articulate speech at all. This is caused by neurological diseases and injuries including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) which is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, Charcot's disease and Motor Neuron disease. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder.