The overarching goal of BrainCom is to nurture a technology paradigm shift by developing a new generation of very large-scale neuroprosthetic cortical devices based on novel materials and technologies that can provide a unique leap forward towards a new level of basic understanding of cortical speech networks and the advancement of rehabilitation solutions to restore speech and communication capabilities in disabled patients using innovative brain-computer paradigms.
Ultimately, BrainCom will foster a novel line of knowledge and technologies that will seed the future generation of speech neural prostheses. To this end, the BrainCom project proposes a radically new neurotechnology taking advantage of unique properties of novel nanomaterials such as graphene, 2D materials, and organic semiconductors, as well as device design rules related to these materials, in order to fabricate ultra-flexible cortical and intracortical implants enabling high density recording and stimulation over large cortical areas with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution.
Project acronym: BrainCom
Project Title: High-density cortical implants for cognitive neuroscience and rehabilitation of speech using brain-computer interfaces
Start Date: 01/12/2016
Duration: 60 months
H2020 Project Grant Agreement Number: 723032
Project Total Cost: €8,648,827.89
EC Contribution / Funding: €8,359,862.50
Programme Acronym: H2020-FETPROACT-2016-2017
Funding Scheme: Collaborative project
To develop novel large-area cortical and intracortical neural interfaces integrating recording and stimulation capabilities based on very high-density (over 10,000 channels) ultra-flexible arrays of surface μECoG (microelectrocorticography) and intracortical devices.
To develop fully-customized integrated electronic circuits (ASICs) to overcome the limitation of the number of recording channels and to solve the issue of data acquisition and management of very high-density devices
To assess these novel technologies in behaving animals* and use them to advance the fundamental understanding of the link between surface and intra cortical signals and dynamics in cortical circuits and pathways in order to devise more effective decoding strategies.
To gain a radically new fundamental understanding of the distributed brain circuits of speech and their plastic flexibility before and after lesions.
To perform clinical testing of innovative neurotechnologies using very high-density cortical arrays to achieve detailed mapping of human motor speech areas at very high resolution (500-1000 µm spacing over 5×5 cm2 and below 100 µm over smaller regions) and develop innovative decoding strategies to predict overt and covert speech production from cortical activity.
*BrainCom and the Ethical Treatment of Animals
The use of animals in European research is covered by a wide variety of legislation. One example of legislation is Directive 2010/63/EU of the European Parliament and of the council on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. A useful overview of the European Commission funded research position on the use of animals in research can be seen under ‘Animals used for scientific purposes’ on the European Commission Website.
BrainCom not only abides by its legal, contractual, and ethical duties toward the use of animals in scientific research, but goes beyond what’s required in order to embody best practice.
One central pillar of the approach is the so-called ‘3 Rs‘. The three Rs stand for Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement. For the purposes of scientific use of animals, researchers are expected to replace animal experimentation wherever possible. Where it is impossible to replace them, their numbers must be reduced to the minimum and the numbers used carefully justified. Experiments, moreover, must be refined so as to minimise any possible distress, while maximising the wellbeing of the animals throughout their lives.
In neuroscience research, it is unlikely that animal experimentation will ever be replaced. The brain is the most complex live dynamical system we know of, and exploring its activity across a range of contexts requires engaging with real brain behavior. In addition, the aim of research into neuro-rehabilitative brain-computer interfaces has as its end goal the remedying of some highly disabling conditions. It is vital that basic principle underlying the methodology are studied, their optimal implementation and limitations are understood in animal disease models, and that such technologies are well validated before they are used to aid vulnerable people. This kind of testing is therefore intrinsically connected to medical need.
The BrainCom project incorporates ethics reflection at every part of research design and technology development. To reduce animal experimentation, BrainCom developed the most advanced methodologies technology to allow multiple recordings from the same animals for different purposes. This means that, within the project, animal use is as low as possible. With the development of the technology, it can also serve to reduce animal use in experiments more widely in the field. Because the technology being developed allows highly targeted, scalable, and efficient data collection, experiments are highly refined. They are painless interventions that allow animals to behave quite normally, which has been confirmed by close and quantitative analysis of the animals’ vitals and natural behavior. Going beyond the 3Rs, BrainCom also rehouses animals that have served in experimental contexts whenever possible. This ‘4th R’ represents a commitment beyond what’s required, and signals a way for other researchers to follow.