Breakthrough in Brain-Computer Interface Technology at Tsinghua University
On January 31st, Tsinghua University’s official WeChat account announced that the wireless minimally invasive brain-computer interface named NEO, developed by Professor Hong Bo’s team from the School of Medicine, successfully conducted its first clinical implantation experiment on October 24, 2023. On January 29, 2024, the joint team held a summary meeting for the clinical trial phase, announcing a groundbreaking progress in the rehabilitation of the first patient with the brain-computer interface.
The brain-computer interface works by recording and interpreting brain signals, enabling direct communication between the brain and a computer. On the one hand, it can aid in the recovery of patients with brain disorders such as ALS, spinal cord injuries, and epilepsy. On the other hand, it holds the potential for merging brain and machine intelligence, thereby expanding the human brain’s information processing capabilities.
Achieving connectivity between the “brain” and “machine” is no easy task. Professor Hong Bo explained that there are mainly two routes for brain-computer interfaces: invasive and non-invasive. Invasive brain-computer interfaces involve implanting neural electrodes into the brain cortex, providing high-quality neural signals but posing risks of inflammation in nerve cells and wound infections. Non-invasive brain-computer interfaces place electrodes on the surface of the scalp, causing minimal harm to the human body, yet scalp electroencephalography signals are weak and noisy, heavily relying on conductive gel, making stable operation challenging.
In recent years, with advancements in neuroscience, nanosensors, microelectronic chips, artificial intelligence, and other technologies, brain-computer interfaces have made new breakthroughs, entering a phase of rapid development.
Unlike the brain-computer interface developed by Elon Musk’s company Neuralink on January 30, the wireless minimally invasive brain-computer interface processor designed by Tsinghua University is approximately the size of two coins. It combines neural sensing, signal processing, wireless communication, and wireless power supply chips inside the body, buried in the patient’s skull; the electrodes are placed outside of the dura mater (which lies between the skull and the brain cortex, serving to protect nerve tissues). The integration of these components significantly reduces neural damage while achieving higher communication bandwidth. It is known that after three months of home brain-computer interface rehabilitation training, the patient can use brainwave activities to drive pneumatic gloves, enabling functions such as drinking water independently, with a grip decoding accuracy of over 90%.
Professor Hong Bo stated that brain-computer interfaces can help patients with spinal cord injuries, strokes, and high-level paralysis control prosthetics, wheelchairs, and even use smartphones, computers, and other devices, alleviating patient suffering, speeding up the recovery process, and improving the quality of life. As brain-computer interface technology continues to advance, there is a possibility of achieving bidirectional closed-loop neural regulation to assist in the treatment of epilepsy, depression, and other neurological disorders.
Author: Wang Xinhao
Editor: Zhang Xinyi
Graphic Editor: Maria
Supervisor: Lian Xiaodong