Project Objectives: The objectives of this study is to develop a BCI system that can restore brain-driven walking to people with spinal cord injury (SCI).

It is well known that the decreased mobility and reliance on wheelchairs after SCI results in significant medical co-morbidities, such as pressure ulcers, metabolic derangements, and cardiovascular disease. Being able to restore the much sought after able-body-like ambulation after SCI may help to improve mobility function and significantly reduce the medical care costs associated with complications.

Current Status: We are seeking to recruit additional volunteers with paraplegia due to SCI to determine if our BCI-controlled functional electrical stimulation can generalize across a population of people with SCI.

Funding is now being sought to study the electrophysiology of walking from subdural electrocorticogram (ECoG) electrodes. Identifying how the brain controls walking will not only solve a major human neuroscience mystery, but also help inform us on the design of a potential fully implantable BCI system.

Project History:

2008-2011: This project began as a collaboration between myself, Prof Luis A. Chui, MD, and Prof. Zoran Nenadic, DSc. The idea to restore walking after spinal cord injury has long been sought after, but no biomedical treatments or technologies have been able to achieve this. Our team set out with the goal to explore if BCIs could be used as a novel means to restoring gait function after SCI. We received funding from the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Fund of California to explore this. During this support period, we developed a robust BCI binary classification methodology. This system was successfully applied to facilitate control of a video game avatar’s linear walking within a 3D environment by able-bodied individuals using a walking motor imagery control strategy.

2011-2012: Building upon the success of the BCI-controlled avatar, the system was successfully tested in a group of volunteers with SCI.

2012-2013: Motivated by the success of the BCI-controlled avatar with people with paraplegia and tetraplegia due to SCI, Dr. Nenadic and I advanced the BCI system beyond virtual reality. In collaboration with Dr. Sophia Chun, MD at the Long Beach VA Medical Center, we interfaced our BCI system with the Lokomat Robotic Gait Orthosis to test the concept of brain-controlled basic ambulation with real physical movements. Funding from the Long Beach VA Medical Center and the Southern California Institute for Research and Education supported this endeavor. Our study showed that it is possible to utilize an EEG-based BCI to control basic ambulation after SCI. This is an exciting achievement as it represents the first time that a person with complete motor paralysis in the lower extremities after SCI was able to regain basic, brain-controlled walking.

2013-2014: Moving beyond the treadmill walking constraints of the BCI-controlled Lokomat system, we were funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to test a BCI-controlled functional electrical stimulation system for overground walking. This system was successfully tested in an a volunteer with T6 ASIA B SCI.


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