A recent study from researchers at the University of Houston demonstrates the potential of using a brain-computer interface, along with a virtual walking avatar, to help control gait and possibly recover one’s walking ability after a stroke, some spinal cord injuries, and other gait disabilities.
Published recently in Scientific Reports, the study suggests that the brain-computer interface can promote and enhance cortical involvement during walking. It was performed at the University of Houston’s Noninvasive Brain-Machine Interface System Laboratory, and was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke.
In the study, senior author, Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal and others on the team used non-invasive brain monitoring to determine what parts of the brain are involved in an activity, using that information to create an algorithm, or a brain-machine interface, which can translate the subject’s intentions into action, according to a media release from the University of Houston.
Eight healthy volunteers were fitted with a 64-channel headset and motion sensors at the hip, knee, and ankle joint. They then performed three trials involving walking on a treadmill while watching an avatar displayed on a monitor.
First, the avatar was activated by the motion sensors, allowing its movement to precisely mimic that of the test subject. In later tests, the avatar was controlled by the brain-computer interface, meaning the subject controlled the avatar with his or her brain.
The avatar perfectly mimicked the subject’s movements when relying upon the sensors, but the match was less precise when the brain-computer interface was used, the release explains.
The participants demonstrated increased activity in the posterior parietal cortex and the inferior parietal lobe, along with increased involvement of the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in motor learning and error monitoring.
“Voluntary control of movements is crucial for motor learning and physical rehabilitation,” the researchers write, per the release. “Our results suggest the possible benefits of using a closed-loop EEG-based BCI-VR (brain-computer interface-virtual reality) system in inducing voluntary control of human gait.”
[Source(s): University of Houston, EurekAlert]