A Chip to Better Control Brain Stimulators for Parkinson's

Michigan engineers are developing a closed-loop deep-brain stimulation device for Parkinson's disease that would listen to the brain while stimulating it

3 min read

19 June 2008—For more than a decade, doctors have been implanting devices called deep-brain stimulators into patients with Parkinson’s disease and stimulating a small area of their brains with low-voltage electrical pulses. So far, there’s been only one way to tell how patients are taking to the treatment: by watching. Are they walking smoothly again? Can they hold their hands in front of them without trembling? But a better way to evaluate treatment is to ask the brain directly. In such a system, neuronal feedback would direct the timing, location, and intensity of subsequent stimulation and would theoretically suppress side effects that many patients suffer today. A group of neural engineers from the University of Michigan, tackling a pivotal piece of the problem, have designed a programmable device capable of stimulating and recording from the brain simultaneously.

”It’s what a lot of people have talked about for a really long time, but nobody’s done it,” says Jerrold Vitek, a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio, who treats patients with deep-brain stimulators and was not involved with the research.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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