Intel and Brown University have begun work on a DARPA-funded Intelligent Spine Interface project that aims to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to restore movement and bladder control for patients paralysed by severe spinal cord injuries. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military.
Naveen Rao, corporate vice-president and general manager of the AI Products Group, Intel Group, said, "As a PhD student at Brown, I investigated how to interface the brain with machines as an application. Now at Intel, we are combining our AI expertise with Brown University's cutting-edge medical research to help solve a critical medical problem: how to reconnect the brain and spine after a major spinal injury."
How it works: During the two-year programme, researchers will record motor and sensory signals from the spinal cord and use artificial neural networks to learn how to stimulate the post-injury site to communicate motor commands. Surgeons at Rhode Island Hospital near Brown University will implant electrode arrays on both ends of a patient's injury site, creating an intelligent bypass to eventually allow the severed nerves to communicate in real time. Researchers will leverage both Intel AI open source software such as nGraph and Intel AI accelerator hardware to meet the real-time requirements of this application.
"Listening for the first time to the spinal circuits around the injury and then taking action in real time with Intel's combined AI hardware and software solutions will uncover new knowledge about the spinal cord and accelerate innovation toward new therapies," said David Borton, assistant professor of engineering, Brown University.
Why it matters: The human body is unable to regenerate severed nerve fibers. In the case of a severe spinal injury, the brain's electrical commands will no longer reach the muscles, which can lead to paralysis.