Albany Med and Wadsworth to Lead International “Cyber Brain” Collaboration
ALBANY, N.Y., July 25, 2012—Supported by a multi-million dollar grant from the European Union, Albany Medical Center researchers will lead an international academic partnership to create a research lab in Italy that may someday help those who are paralyzed or disabled communicate with computers and a new generation of prosthetic devices using only their thoughts.
Modeled after the brain-computer interface (BCI) lab at Albany Med/Wadsworth and supported by a three-million euro ($3.7 million) grant from the European Union to the Italian government, the newly created BCI lab will be the first of its kind in southern Italy.
Every facet of the new laboratory’s development will be overseen by Albany Med faculty members Anthony Ritaccio, M.D., J. Spencer Standish professor of neurology and neurosurgery and director of the Epilepsy and Human Brain Mapping Program at Albany Medical Center; and Gerwin Schalk, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at Albany Medical College and senior research scientist at the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health. Peter Brunner, M.S., will assist in managing the project.
Through their work, Drs. Ritaccio and Schalk have implanted sensors onto the surface of the brain that detect the electrical activity of the brain. This electrical activity is then transmitted to a computer. The system uses complex software and algorithms to allow individuals to spell words on a computer without a keyboard, and to operate a computer-generated hand by thinking commands, an application that could lead to thought-controlled communication or prosthetic systems for people that are severely paralyzed.
Video is available at: http://www.amc.edu/patient/services/neurosciences/neurology/bci_video.cfm
Dr. Ritaccio said, “This will be a potent and immediate technology transfer to the Italians. We are humbled by the endorsement of our work represented by this invitation to lead and collaborate in Italy.”
Dr. Schalk added, “We are honored to be invited to this joint project, which has important scientific, technical, clinical, and societal implications for a currently underrepresented region in southern Italy.”
The announcement of the new lab was attended by members of the European Parliament and Italian dignitaries including Dr. Nicolo Meldolesi, head of Fondazione Neurone, as well as regional presidents and representatives of Italy’s leading health and research institutes.
Dr. Meldolesi said the collaboration will “facilitate academic and scholarly exchange and promote developments in innovative human brain mapping and brain-computer interface technology.”
The new laboratory will be located in southern Italy at Neuromed Institute, Italy’s leading academic medical center specializing in neurosciences. It represents an academic collaboration among Albany Medical Center, the University of Rome Sapienza, and Neuromed Institute and also will receive support from the Fondazione Neurone, a non-profit organization supporting innovations in the treatment of severe neurological diseases. News of the joint agreement was announced at an international press conference that was held in a restored 15th century church in Avellino, Italy, on June 15.
Albany Med’s BCI research has garnered widespread national and international attention and has been featured in the The New York Times Magazine, National Public Radio, El Mundo (Spain), on CBS Sunday Morning, and permanently exhibited in the American Museum of Natural History.
In addition, Albany Medical College and Wadsworth jointly host an annual international workshop on electrocorticography (ECoG) on the practice of using electrodes placed on the surface of the brain to record electrical signals from the cerebral cortex.
Albany Medical Center, northeastern New York’s only academic health sciences center, is one of the largest private employers in the Capital Region. It incorporates the 651-bed Albany Medical Center Hospital, which offers the widest range of medical and surgical services in the region, and the Albany Medical College, which trains the next generation of doctors, scientists and other healthcare professionals, and also includes a biomedical research enterprise and the region’s largest physicians practice with 350 doctors. Albany Medical Center works with dozens of community partners to improve the region’s health and quality of life. For more information: www.amc.edu or www.facebook.com/albanymedicalcenter.
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