Italian hospital uses Nicolelis technology on patients – 03/05/2024 – Tech

Italian hospital uses Nicolelis technology on patients – 03/05/2024 – Tech


The largest private hospital in Italy, located in Milan, will begin offering neurotechnologies developed by the team led by Brazilian scientist Miguel Nicolelis, professor emeritus at Duke University, in the United States.

The Nicolelis Institute announced the partnership this Tuesday (5) and services should begin this semester.

“We have scheduled a master class at the Universidad Vita-Salute San Rafaelle in June, in which we will celebrate ten years of exoskeleton-assisted kicking at the opening of the World Cup, but the work tends to start earlier,” the neuroscientist told Sheet.

According to Nicolelis, his team has developed neuroscience- and brain-machine interface-inspired treatments for spinal cord injury paralysis, Parkinson’s disease, chronic untreatable epilepsy, stroke and multiple sclerosis.

“We are considerably expanding the range of use of the interface between brain and machine”, he stated.

This is technology that uses the reading of brain signals to execute commands on computers and robotic objects.

Nicolelis is a pioneer in the area and carried out the first successful test of the technology in 2002, in a famous video in which monkeys play the Atari classic, Pong, without using controls, using brain sensors.

The first article on the technique is from 1999 and completes 25 this year.

Elon Musk and other companies around the world are betting on adaptations of technology for therapeutic uses and with promises of overcoming the limits of human beings using brain implants.

Nicolelis calls Musk’s chip invasive and a simulacrum of second-rate science fiction.

Unlike the company sponsored by Musk, Neuralink, which creates the brain-machine interface through the implantation of a microchip through surgery, the Brazilian team opted for non-invasive approaches. The neural waves are captured and processed using a cap full of sensors.

As there is no need for a surgical procedure, the cost drops significantly, and safety is greater, according to Nicolelis.

“These devices have proven to be as effective as, or more effective, from the point of view of patient functional improvement, [do que os implantes]”, stated the Brazilian.

The solution without surgery also reduces the regulatory challenge faced by health authorities.

Founded in 2016, Neuralink, for example, got permission from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to start recruiting for the first human trial only in May last year and announced details about the clinical trial on 19 September.

A person with paralysis received the first Neuralink chip this year and was able to move a mouse with his thoughts. This information was released in tweets, on the social network X, by Musk, who did not give details about the patient’s health.

The partnership between Nicolelis and the IRCCS San Raffaele hospital involves technologies in development since the presentation of the first brain-controlled prosthesis at the then Arena Corinthians, in Itaquera, in 2014.

“Over the last ten years, we have done several articles that justify our choices for non-invasive techniques; I have published a complete theory of how I believe these interventions can help patients,” said Nicolelis.

“We now have a much more compact, easy-to-use exoskeleton. I call it ‘our Beetle’, because it is safe, has no risk and can be sold at a lower cost than what is announced today,” he said.

The exoskeleton can be controlled using brain commands or an application on a cell phone, which also works as an intermediary between the signal from the cap transmitted via Bluetooth and the prosthesis.

Before learning to operate the exoskeleton, the patient trains brain control over movement in virtual reality, controlling an avatar, like in a video game.

“In paralyzed people, the notion of the body’s existence only reaches the limit of the spinal cord injury, so the patient needs to retrain the brain to understand that the rest of the body is there, not only moving, but having sensations” , said the neuroscientist.

The solutions for Parkinson’s and chronic epilepsy are inspired by another finding by Nicolelis, published on the cover of the March 2009 edition of the illustrious Science magazine: electrical stimuli in the spinal cord reduce symptoms of movement disorders in the nervous system.

For Nicolelis, his proposal to apply the brain-machine interface and other areas of neuroscience circumvents ethical dilemmas of proposals he calls invasive by sticking to the simple. “Our focus is on treating people at scale.”

“No one is interfering with the electrical activity of the brain,” the researcher said of concerns about the risks of thought surveillance. He also calls nonsense the idea that it will be possible to load the brain with information, as occurs in the movie The Matrix.

In the case of Neuralink, Musk states that the company’s long-term objective is to allow, through brain implants, people to develop a super-intellect by receiving permanent assistance from a general artificial intelligence — one that surpasses human capabilities.

Nicolelis, however, assesses that the invasive brain-machine interfaces, which he invented and tested on animals, have “very restricted” clinical applications. “They don’t scale, they are expensive and they stop working in a short period of time, it’s not like a pacemaker that lasts 25 years.”

Neurosurgery to implant a chip costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in the United States and is inaccessible to the vast majority of patients, according to the neuroscientist. “It’s still impossible to remove them, if you do, it pulls the brain tissue together,” he said.

“These implants are sensational for studying the brain in animals, not for treatments,” said the Brazilian. According to him, the majority of patients he has heard from in the last ten years do not want to undergo surgery.

Proponents of the surgical approach, on the other hand, claim that direct contact with the brain allows nerve impulses to be captured in greater detail. This would open up space for new applications of the brain-machine interface.

Now, the Brazilian scientist’s focus is to lower the cost of non-invasive treatments to, ideally, serve the more than 1 billion patients with motor disorders. The partnership with the Italian hospital is the first step towards popularizing these solutions.

Nicolelis’ project includes plans to forge collaborations with cutting-edge medical institutions on five continents.


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