Chip design giant ARM has teamed up with US researchers on a project to develop chips that can be implanted in the human brain.
The chips are designed to help people with brain and spinal injuries, and will sit inside the skull.
The aim is to develop a system that not only allows people to carry out tasks, but to receive sensory feedback.
But it will be some time before we start to see the benefits of the 10-year project.
ARM is providing the processors for the implants being developed at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE), at the University of Washington.
The researchers have already developed an early version of the technology.
“They have some early prototype devices,” ARM’s director of healthcare technologies, Peter Ferguson, told the BBC.
“The challenge is power consumption and the heat that generates. They needed something ultra-small, ultra-low power.”
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.
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.
ARM Holdings, which is based in Cambridge, was sold to Japanese firm Softbank last year for £24bn.
In March this year, Softbank was reported to be considering selling a 25% stake in ARM to a Saudi-backed investment group.
Reference : www.bbc.com