Paul Allen Donates $1.5 Million to Help Overcome Hand and Arm Paralysis

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen granted a team of researchers from the University of Washington with $1.5 million to develop a new prosthetic device.

The research team is developing a brain-computer-spine interface that can help restore hand and arm paralysis after spinal cord injuries through neuron signals. It has the size of a pacemaker that can relay signals from the brain into the spinal cord.

It is dubbed Brain-Computer-Spinal-Interface Project spearheaded by Dr. Joshua Smith in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; Dr. Adrienne Fairhall in the Department of Physiology & Biophysics and Physics; and Dr. Chet Moritz in Rehabilitation Medicine and Physiology & Biophysics.

In a press release issued by the foundation, the description of the project says, “The new system will record a patient’s intent to move a hand and arm via electrodes in the brain, then decode the user intention using an implanted computer and exchanging data with an external control unit. Finally, it will deliver real-time stimulation to the spinal cord to re-animate paralyzed limbs.”

The neuroprosthetic device can be charged through a coil that patients will sleep above. It will minimize the surgeries needed to keep the system running.

Chet Moritz, assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine said, “We’re now in the process of controlling those interspinal electrodes with brain activity,” he said. The fund will aid the team for three to five years. Moritz said it will still take five to 10 years or more before the product is available in the market.

Susan M. Coliton, vice president of The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation also shared her sentiments, “We are committed to empowering creative researchers who are taking risks and making meaningful impact in the lives of individuals and in communities with their discoveries.”

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