Medical Science

Interfacing With the Brain through Real-Time Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Stephen Laconte, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute

Brain computer interfaces (BCIs) provide a powerful method for converting mental states into control signals to drive real-world devices. Thus BCIs have compelling applications for assistive technologies and rehabilitation protocols, and in the near future will likely have widespread impact on the public through computer gaming and the entertainment industry. Having a direct link with the brain also creates exciting new avenues to understand its function. In particular, real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rtfMRI), while unlikely to find applications for everyday gaming or as a living room keyboard in the near future, is currently the best technology available for non-invasive whole brain measurements in humans. Therefore rtfMRI is a critical complement to both more invasive and more portable technologies and has potentially singular advantages for rehabilitation, therapy, and basic scientific discovery. rtfMRI can track localized regions in the brain as well as decode brain states from distributed network activity. Based on this foundation, some important questions now are: How can rtfMRI be applied to further our understanding of how the brain works? and What are the translational potentials for rtfMRI for rehabilitation and therapy? The field is still in its infancy in addressing these questions. In a sense, developing a working BCI for a given interface and patient population is an important underpinning, but just the first step before embarking upon full-fledged rehabilitation studies.

Background Review Article:
S. M. LaConte. (2011). Decoding fMRI brain states in real-time. NeuroImage, 56:440-54.

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Medical Science

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