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Tue October 15, 2013
Brown Researchers' "BrainGate" Wins $1M Prize
BrainGate is a research project based primarily at Brown University, but with scientist, physician, and engineer team members at Massachusetts General, Stanford University, and the Providence VA, focused on developing technologies that help people with neurologic disease or injuries regain the ability to move and communicate.
The team's lead researcher, John Donoghue, who's based at Brown, just accepted a $1 million dollar prize for the work at a brain tech conference in Israel. The prize and conference were just launched as a way to promote Israel as a center for neurotechnology, an emerging field.
The BrainGate team has developed a system of electrodes they can implant in the brain, the signals from which are decoded by a computer and sent to operate a device - like an artificial limb. Essentially, they're pioneering a way to help people with debilitating diseases like ALS or other kinds of paralysis move again just by thinking about moving.
In the same way Israel hopes to command the international brain technology stage, so too does tiny Rhode Island. And the Ocean State has several advantages that could land it a starring role. The first is a high concentration of academic and medical institutions and researchers engaged in cutting edge brain research. The second is political and donor interest (to wit: lots of recent grants for brain research, like this one). And the third, in my opinion, is this particular moment in history, when a confluence of advances in brain imaging technology and a rapidly aging population faced with a growing rise in neurologic diseases like Alzheimers are raising the stakes for researchers who want to understand how to help the damaged brain regain some function and restore quality of life.