Thursday, November 15, 2007

Being heard

Phil Kennedy's work is in the news again. He's been working on using his Neurotrophic Electrode to decode phonemes from Broca's area of a locked-in patient. He did have a number of posters at SfN (right next to mine, too), and the work seems to be moving along steadily. Having talked with him, I know his philosophy is to write papers only when there is a major, major finding, but I would like to see a few technique or preliminary result papers in a peer reviewed journal, like J Neural Engineering. Still, I'll always cheer on the guy that just forges ahead, blazing a path for others.

Unfortunately, the article is at New Scientist, which requires a subscription, which I don't have, but there is a BBC report as well.

The Neurotrophic Electrode is something Phil developed and has been used in several locked-in patients. When I worked with him, we were focused on ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and spinal cord injury (SCI), and implanting MI. The electrode is essentially a glass cone with a bit of sciatic nerve and neurotrophic factor that is just pushed into the cortex. The damage causes neurons to sprout new processes, which are attracted to the trophic factor and grow through the cone. There is no information on the types of cells attracted to the trophic factor, and while units are seen after a couple dozen weeks, the identity of the cells is unknown. While the cone tip is lined up to grab pyramidal cells, the patients need a 'warm up' period in order to activate the cells, which is somewhat suspicious. Other studies using traditional electrodes show instantaneous control, and the fact that a warm up period is necessary could mean that what is actually being grabbed are ascending cholinergic fibers from the RAS or possibly local interneurons active during learning. Either way, information about the associated function is still present, but some basic histology showing more than myelinated fibers in the cone are really needed. Just a few thoughts that I've had since leaving...

2 comments:

natalia said...

Ha, just wanted to let you know that the BBC report you linked to was posted on slashdot under this title: "Major Breakthrough in Direct Neural Interface". A reader, perhaps?

Brandon King said...

Haha, who knows? It isn't really a breakthrough, though. And it isn't really 'new' either. Ah, popular media reports on science...
It probably just got attention because they were in the SfN Press Book (Hey! So was I! Where's my BBC story?!?!).

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