Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
Highlights of the Year
New Software and Platforms
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Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
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Section: Application Domains

Brain computer interfaces for clinical applications

A brain computer interface (BCI) is a device aiming to decode brain activity, thus creating an alternate communication channel between a person and the external environment. BCI systems can be categorized on the base of the classification of an induced or evoked brain activity. The central tenet of a BCI is the capability to distinguish different patterns of brain activity, each being associated to a particular intention or mental task. Hence adaptation, as well as learning, is a key component of a BCI because users must learn to modulate their brainwaves to generate distinct brain patterns. Usually, a BCI is considered a technology for people to substitute some lost functions. However, a BCI could also help in clinical rehabilitation to recover motor functions. Indeed, in current neuroscience-based rehabilitation it is recognized that protocols based on mental rehearsal of movements (like motor imagery practicing) are a way to access the motor system because they can induce an activation of sensorimotor networks that were affected by lesions. Hence, a BCI based on movement imagery can objectively monitor patients’ progress and their compliance with the protocol, monitoring that they are actually imagining movements. It also follows that feedback from such a BCI can provide patients with an early reinforcement in the critical phase when there is not yet an overt sign of movement recovery. The BCI approaches that we develop are based on the characterization of the information contained in the functional connectivity patterns. We expect to significantly increase the performance of the BCI system with respect to the sole use of standard power spectra of the activity generated by single local brain areas. Such an improvement will concretely provide the user with a more precise control of the external environment in open-loop BCI tasks and a more coherent feedback in the closed-loop BCI schemes.