State Health Department's Brain Computer Interface Technology to be Featured This Sunday on "60 Minutes"
ALBANY, N.Y. (Oct. 31, 2008) - New York State Department of Health scientist Jonathan R. Wolpaw, M.D., will appear this Sunday on "60 Minutes" to demonstrate the progress of Brain Computer Interface (BCI) technology. The demonstration will show how severely paralyzed individuals can use their brain signals to send commands to a computer, allowing them to communicate independently.
"BCI technology provides the severely paralyzed with another way to communicate that does not depend on muscle control. Through further research our goal is to make this technology available for individual use," said New York State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "This ground-breaking work by Dr. Wolpaw and his fellow researchers keeps the state Department of Health's Wadsworth Center in the forefront of the research and development of this life-altering technology."
To date, six severely disabled people have used the Wadsworth BCI in their homes for as long as 2.5 years as part of the state Department of Health research study. The Department has produced a broadcast-quality video that is available to the media that illustrates the BCI technology. The video is also posted at www.wadsworth.org/bci.
Researchers at the state Department of Health, the Wadsworth Center and Helen Hayes Hospital have developed and successfully tested the BCI technology. Dr. Wolpaw, chief of the Laboratory of Neural Injury and Repair at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, has been a central figure in the field of BCI research and technology since its beginning in the late 1980s.
This Sunday, "60 Minutes" will feature a demonstration of how severely paralyzed people can use electrical signals from their brains, rather than muscles, to type characters or manipulate a cursor on a computer screen. The BCI uses a computer to track brain waves through a technology known as electroencephalography or EEG. Users wearing an EEG cap look at a computer screen that rapidly illuminates different groups of letters. Their brains issue a particular electrical signal only when the letter they desire appears. With this system, a paralyzed individual can type or operate other devices with brainpower alone. Unlike many other BCI systems, the Wadsworth system uses brain signals recorded from the scalp, and does not involve surgery.
One of the BCI users featured on "60 Minutes" is Scott Mackler, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor, Departments of Medicine & Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania/Philadelphia Veterans Administration Medical Center, who is afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Dr. Mackler, who has lost almost all his motor skills, participates in the state Department of Health BCI study and uses this system at work to communicate in his laboratory and then at home to interact with his family.
" People with and without disabilities use computers to communicate and control their environments," Dr. Wolpaw said. "Research has shown that people who have lost muscle control due to disease, neuromuscular disorders, or injury can use BCI systems by changing their brain activity so that a computer can detect their intent and translate this into device control."
Lawrence S. Sturman, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Wadsworth Center, said, "The Wadsworth Center has fostered innovative technology since its inception to develop new ways to help people in need. We are very proud of the development of BCI technology, and look forward to more progress to bring this new device to disabled people."
The BCI home system is not yet available for use by the public due to the ongoing technical support currently required. The Department is exploring ways to reduce that requirement, which would enable much wider individual use of the system.
For additional information about BCI technology, people can contact the Wadsworth Center (www.wadsworth.org/bci or 518-486-2893), the Center for Rehabilitation Technology at Helen Hayes Hospital (888-707-3422) and the Brain Communication Foundation (www.braincommunication.org or 888-561-7840).