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David Bricker
Phone: 832-667-5811

Nearly $700,000 to UH and Methodist will help develop brain machine interface technology

Houston, TX - 6/21/2013

The Cullen Foundation and The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research are now supporting a brain-machine interface project that University of Houston and The Methodist Hospital Research Institute scientists hope will someday help quadriplegics walk.

The Cullen Foundation has directed $495,000 in philanthropic support to the research project and The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) Foundation has given $200,000 to purchase Rehab Rex, the latest version of a robotic exoskeleton that helps legs move.

University of Houston (UH) Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, Ph.D., is working on perfecting a non-invasive brain-machine interface (BMI) technology that patients can use to operate an advanced robotics system such as the exoskeleton.

Contreras-Vidal is working with Methodist Neurological Institute neurosurgeon Robert G. Grossman, M.D., on the research project. Initial testing has begun at UH and broader clinical trials will be conducted at The Methodist Hospital, possibly as early as this summer.

Grossman said the Cullen funds will help advance basic research into how the brain mechanisms work.

"We are trying to determine where in the brain are the signals that drive the robot, that make it turn left or right for example," Grossman said.

BMI allows people to control machines by focusing their brains' electrical patterns, usually with extensive training. As the technology improves, BMI could help paraplegic and quadriplegic people move, and help below-elbow amputees control neuroprosthetic limbs.

"This research project is a unique opportunity that can only happen because of the collaboration between UH and Methodist," Contreras-Vidal said. "We are thankful to the Cullen Foundation and the TIRR Foundation for recognizing the importance of this project and how it can help improve the lives of people with mobility impairments."

The exoskeleton should be finished and delivered to Houston this summer.

A version of Rehab Rex was demonstrated recently at the 2013 International Workshop on Clinical Brain-Neural Machine Interface Systems, which was hosted by The Methodist Hospital Research Institute and UH and held at Methodist. The workshop was supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, with additional support from Texas Medical Center Institutions and industry. International speakers from academia, government, industry, medical centers and end-users gathered at the workshop for discuss the challenges and potential solutions regarding the development of interface systems.

To speak with Grossman, please contact David Bricker, The Methodist Hospital System, at 832-667-5811 or dmbricker@tmhs.org. To speak with Contreras-Vidal, please contact Shawn Lindsey, University of Houston, at 713-743-5725 or selindsey@uh.edu.