A team from the tech company Intel is working with scientists from Brown University in Rhode Island to enable patients with spinal cord injuries to move their limbs again using artificial intelligence (AI).

Recognizing that the circuits surrounding spinal cord lesions tend to continue to function following an injury, the team is exploring how to restore the communication between the brain and limbs that is lost once nerve fibers have been severed, oftentimes leading to paralysis. The team is preparing to embark on a two year research project funded in part by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to devise an AI-based intelligent spinal interface.

During the project’s duration, the team will document sensory and motor signals communicated from the spinal cord and then apply Intel-powered artificial neural networks — a series of algorithms that mimic the human brain and that are designed to recognize patterns — to discover how the area surrounding the injury site can be stimulated to restore the injured cord’s ability to send and receive messages.

To do this, surgeons at Rhode Island Hospital will implant electrode arrays into volunteers with severe spinal cord injuries. The electrode arrays will be implanted on each side of the patient’s severed spinal cord and will behave as a conduit for restoring communication between the severed nerves and the brain.

Eventually, the team intends to develop a device that is fully implantable and that can operate long term, enabling the severed nerves to immediately interact once they receive electrical signals from the brain.

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