ARM on a quest to provide chips for brain injury implants

ARM, a chip design giant has aligned with US researchers on a project to develop chips that can be implanted in the human brain.
Upon completion, the chip will sit inside the skull and it will be of help to those with brain and spinal injuries.

The sole aim of the project is to develop a system that not only allows people to carry out tasks, but to receive sensory feedback.
The chip design giant ARM is providing the processors for the implants being developed at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE), at the University of Washington.

In a report to BBC, ARM's director of healthcare technologies, Peter Ferguson, said "they have some early prototype devices. The challenge is power consumption and the heat that generates. They needed something ultra-small, ultra-low power."

Talking about their far vision on the project, he said that the first stage is to design a "system on a chip" that can transmit signals from the brain to a stimulator implanted in the spinal cord, allowing those with spinal or neurological conditions to control their movements.

A team including researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, recently became the first to restore brain-controlled hand and arm motion in a person with complete paralysis.

But CSNE also wants the device to be able to receive information sent back in the other direction, providing sensory information to the brain.
"Not only are they trying to read the signals from the brain, but to feed something back into it", Mr Ferguson explained.

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This would allow people to gauge how tightly they are holding an object, or get a sense of its temperature, for example.
Research suggests that this feedback may also help the brain rewire itself, which could help the recovery of people with certain conditions - such as those who have suffered a stroke.

"When you think about people with spinal cord injuries, the ability to use technology to bridge the spinal cord to get muscles groups to move again and more - that's the far vision," Mr Ferguson said.

In the meantime, he said, the technology could be used to help treat stroke patients, those with Parkinson's, and possibly Alzheimer's.

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