UCI heads $8M NSF-funded project to develop brain-computer interface

The University of California, Irvine was award $8 million to head a group that will develop a brain-computer interface that can restore walking ability and sensation in individuals with a spinal cord injury.

“Spinal cord injuries are devastating and have a profoundly negative impact on independence and quality of life of those affected,” said principal investigator Payam Heydari, UC, Irvine professor of electrical engineering and computer science. “These resulting disabilities cost the U.S. roughly $50 billion per year in primary and secondary healthcare expenditures, so we hope that our work can solve a major national public health problem.”

The award was given to UC, Irvine by the National Science Foundation’s Cyber-Physical Systems Frontier program, will be divided among UC, Irvine, California Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California.

Heydari will be joined by fellow researchers UCI researchers An Do and Zoran Nenadic to implement the brain-computer interface. The interface was once the size of a desktop computer and shrunk to the size of a pacemaker. The goal of this project is to minimize it further to make it a fully implantable version.

“Once these systems are FDA-approved, their application can be expanded to people affected by disability due to stroke or traumatic brain injury,” Do said. “The study also will greatly expand our knowledge of how the human brain controls walking and processes sensation—knowledge that can help researchers better understand disease processes that affect these functions.”