Most BCI research has aimed at replacing or restoring communication and control for people who are severely paralyzed. In contrast, this project seeks to develop and validate BCI-based systems for improving important CNS functions that have been impaired by injury or disease. Success in this new area of BCI-based rehabilitation would greatly expand the population of people who could benefit from BCI technology.
Recent scientific advances have linked specific stages in the brain activity underlying important functions to specific features in the brain signals recorded by EEG. Other recent studies have shown that people can learn to regulate this brain activity through BCI-based operant conditioning of EEG features. From this work comes the central hypothesis of TR&D2: that BCI-based operant conditioning (i.e., training) of properly selected EEG features can improve critical stages in the brain activity responsible for important functions such as motor control and emotion regulation. In accord with this hypothesis, the Specific Aims of TR&D2 are: (1) To develop a BCI-based protocol for training EEG sensorimotor rhythms and to show that this protocol can improve motor control impaired due to stroke; (2) To develop a BCI-based protocol for training EEG features associated with abnormal emotional regulation and to show that this protocol can reduce formal measures of the craving that contributes to substance abuse.
We expect that this work will demonstrate that BCI-based training can improve important brain functions by improving key stages in the responsible brain activity, and can thereby help people with a wide variety of nervous system disorders. Its results should significantly enhance the clinical value of BCI technology, and should also increase understanding of the relationships between brain signals and behavior.