Over the past decade, neuroscientists at the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering (DUCN) have developed the field of brain-machine interface (BMI) into one of the most exciting—and promising—areas of basic and applied research in modern neuroscience. By creating a way to link living brain tissue to a variety of artificial tools, BMIs have made it possible for non-human primates to use the electrical activity produced by hundreds of neurons, located in multiple regions of their brains, to directly control the movements of a variety of robotic devices, including prosthetic arms and legs.
As a result, BMI research raises the hope that in the not-too-distant future, patients suffering from a variety of neurological disorders that lead to devastating levels of paralysis may be able to recover their mobility by harnessing their own brain impulses to directly control sophisticated neuroprostheses.
The Walk Again Project, an international consortium of leading research centers around the world represents a new paradigm for scientific collaboration among the world’s academic institutions, bringing together a global network of scientific and technological experts, distributed among all the continents, to achieve a key humanitarian goal.
The project’s central goal is to develop and implement the first BMI capable of restoring full mobility to patients suffering from a severe degree of paralysis. This lofty goal will be achieved by building a neuroprosthetic device that uses a BMI as its core, allowing the patients to capture and use their own voluntary brain activity to control the movements of a full-body prosthetic device. This “wearable robot,” also known as an “exoskeleton,” will be designed to sustain and carry the patient’s body according to his or her mental will.
In addition to proposing to develop new technologies that aim at improving the quality of life of millions of people worldwide, the Walk Again Project also innovates by creating a complete new paradigm for global scientific collaboration among leading academic institutions worldwide. According to this model, a worldwide network of leading scientific and technological experts, distributed among all the continents, come together to participate in a major, non-profit effort to make a fellow human being walk again, based on their collective expertise. These world renowned scholars will contribute key intellectual assets as well as provide a base for continued fundraising capitalization of the project, setting clear goals to establish fundamental advances toward restoring full mobility for patients in need.
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