April 18, 2024

Global Neuroprosthetics : Taking Human Enhancement To The Next Level


Neuroprosthetics, also known as neural prosthetics, are biological or artificial devices that are implanted or integrated with a biological system to restore lost or impaired functions. As technological advances push the boundaries of what’s possible with man and machine interfaces, the field of neuroprosthetics is rapidly growing globally. With revolutionary new devices that interface directly with the nervous system, neuroprosthetics have the potential to take human enhancement to an unprecedented level.

The History and Evolution of Neuroprosthetics

The earliest known neuroprosthetics were simple devices designed to restore basic functions lost due to injury or disease. In the 1960s, researchers developed the first cochlear implant to help deaf patients hear again. Further innovations led to the development of retinal implants for restoring vision in blind patients in the late 1990s. These initial Global Neuroprosthetics  were relatively crude, but they demonstrated the potential to interface technology directly with the nervous system.

Over the past few decades, advancements in fields like microelectronics, neural engineering and biocompatible materials have propelled the technology forward significantly. Newer retinal implants, cochlear implants and deep brain stimulators are increasingly sophisticated. Some can even restore near-natural levels of sight or hearing. Simultaneously, researchers have also begun exploring more ambitious applications beyond sensory restoration. Neuroprosthetics that augment motor function, enhance cognition and even integrate computer chips with the brain are now being actively pursued globally.

Current Research Directions in Neuroprosthetics

Motor Prosthetics
Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) allow patients with paralysis to control external devices like prosthetic limbs, robotic exoskeletons or computer cursors using just their brain activity. The FDA has already approved invasive motor neuroprosthetics for clinical use. But current systems still have limited capabilities and long training periods. Researchers worldwide are striving to develop high-resolution, intuitive BCIs for complex motor functions.

Cognitive Enhancement
Neuroscientists are investigating neuroprosthetics that can expand human cognition by bypassing biological constraints. Implanted memory chips, thought-controlled computers and direct Brain-to-brain interfaces are some concepts being studied. However, fully realizing these technologies safely and ethically presents many scientific and philosophical challenges.

Sensory Substitution
An area of active research is using neuroprosthetics for expanding, enhancing or substituting human senses. Devices are being explored for substitute vision through the tongue, new senses like magnetic field detection and high-resolution pressure feedback systems. These could significantly augment human perception and interaction with the world.

Global Advances in Key Regions

United States
The US remains the biggest financier and conductor of neuroprosthetics research globally. Major projects include the Brain Initiative, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiatives and private research like Neuralink Corporation. Top US universities and research institutes like Johns Hopkins, Stanford, MIT and University of California lead innovation.

European Union has also prioritized neuroscience research under Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe programmes. Countries at the forefront include Germany, UK, France, Switzerland and Netherlands. Important European centres are École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland), University of Oxford (UK) and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany). The Graphene Flagship sponsors neuroprosthetics research.

Asia is swiftly gaining prominence in this field. Countries actively developing neuroprosthetics include China, South Korea, Japan and India. Chinese group Brainome and journals like Brain Science Advances indicate growing capacity. South Korea’s Brain Research Institute accelerates research. Japan focuses on non-invasive BCIs and India supports projects through initiatives like NModE.

With extraordinary advancements occurring across the globe, neuroprosthetics is positioned to revolutionize medicine and push the boundaries of human capabilities. As technology enables interfaces previously considered impossible, these devices have potential for far-reaching impacts. However, complex technical, ethical and regulatory challenges also need addressing. Overall, through continued international cooperation and responsible research practices, the safe development of beneficial neuroprosthetics applications could vastly improve quality of life for millions worldwide in the coming decades.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it.