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Medicine Science

The Neuroscientist Who Tested a Brain Implant On Himself (technologyreview.com) 58

An anonymous reader writes: Our understanding of the brain has come a long way in the past thirty years, but most brain-related medical procedures remain incredibly complicated and dangerous. Neurologist Phil Kennedy has been working on brain-computer interfaces since the 1980s. He was most notably involved in letting a patient with "locked in" syndrome interact with the outside world through a brain-controlled computer cursor. But the FDA has gradually ramped up its safety demands, and in the past decade they've shut down Kennedy's research. So he did what any determined inventor would do: he went to a hospital in Belize and had surgeons there implant electrodes on his own brain so he could continue his research.

"After returning home to Duluth, Georgia, Kennedy began to toil largely alone in his speech lab, recording his neurons as he repeated 29 phonemes (such as e, eh, a, o, u, and consonants like ch and j) out loud, and then silently imagined saying them. ... Kennedy says his early findings are 'extremely encouraging.' He says he determined that different combinations of the 65 neurons he was recording from consistently fired every time he spoke certain sounds aloud, and also fired when he imagined speaking them—a relationship that is potentially key to developing a thought decoder for speech." Eventually, Kennedy had to have the implants removed, but he hopes the data he gathered will help push the FDA toward supporting this research once more.

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The Neuroscientist Who Tested a Brain Implant On Himself

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  • The funny side of this story is, why did he have the implants removed? Side effects caused him to stop working himself as a patient? :) This appear's to be a "no brainer" :)
    • by Anonymous Coward

      why did he have the implants removed?

      Well they do use the term "complications" which implies unlikely or unexpected results, but brain electrodes are one of those things that basically comes with a built in time limit and the long term plan to remove and replace them over time.

      The electrodes touching the brain causes scar tissue over time, so they become less effective until ultimately they stop working.

      He certainly knew they would need removed at some point, and perhaps he planned all along to not have any re-implanted for the time being. Pe

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The article says his skull never fully closed and that this was a dangerous condition to have. Why that is I am not sure. It also goes on to say that he intended to have the implants for a number of year. Instead he chose to remove the implants since surgery needed to happen and the more surgeries the more chances there are for a life ending event to happen.

    • by BranMan ( 29917 )

      He likely had to have them removed to prevent fatal infections. The implants are foreign objects and the connectors to them were through the skin - so it gets infected. Left long enough really bad infections would set in, that may be ultimately fatal.

      Anything like that for experimental purposes is temporary

  • by HalAtWork ( 926717 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @10:03AM (#50892271)

    Unfortunately the electrodes had to be removed due to complications and he can't continue these tests on himself. I wonder if the fda is preventing research on people who would volunteer for such a procedure, and why the fda would stop people from doing it voluntarily if to doesn't harm anyone else?

    • Well one thing in reseahttp://science.slashdot.org/story/15/11/09/1313258/the-neuroscientist-who-tested-a-brain-implant-on-himself#rch is the fact they are trying to find out whether it can harm you or not. So I assume not many people are eager to go and test this out?
    • Unfortunately the electrodes had to be removed due to complications and he can't continue these tests on himself. I wonder if the fda is preventing research on people who would volunteer for such a procedure, and why the fda would stop people from doing it voluntarily if to doesn't harm anyone else?

      Ethics.

      Lawsuits

      Finding people who don't mind a good chance they will end up dead, or worse, paralyzed.

      Probably the only people who would volunteer for this sort of thing are prisoners looking at a life sentence reduction and who wouldn't mind being dead if it meant they were getting out of the pokey.

      And lawsuits. Signing a piece of paper doesn't protect the doctor from "gross negligence" lawsuits. Some one on a ventilator and immobile in the courtroom maks almost as unbeatable and sympathetic a vic

      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        Which is a series of fine reasons to curb the FDA's power with respect to human experimentation. They don't help with any of these problems or solutions (like malpractice or negligence lawsuits). Instead, it has devolved to risk minimization for the FDA. If they ban experimental medical practices, then they never have to explain in front of a grandstanding Congress why they allowed an experiment that killed a photogenic someone.

        The problem with your breezy assertions about lawsuits, ethics, and Nazi expe
        • The problem with your breezy assertions about lawsuits, ethics, and Nazi experiments is that there are apparently millions of people in the world with some form of crippling paralysis or muscle weakness that prevents them from walking and/or using their arms. Brain implants are probably a core technology to getting them human-level mobility again.

          Tell me khallow, do you plan on volunteering for medical research that might just kill you? Or leave you a quadriplegic?

          Brezy my ass pal, I know all about debilitating problems. Good to see a man of your principles has shown me up , and is volunteering at great personal risk to make humanity better and more healthy.

          What is the brain research program you are signing up for?

          • by khallow ( 566160 )

            What is the brain research program you are signing up for?

            I think rather the question is where is it? Buried by short sighted FDA regulations seems to be the answer.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      and why the fda would stop people from doing it voluntarily if to doesn't harm anyone else?

      If people are banned from doing brain implants, then they can't do anything that risks an FDA bureaucrat's job.

    • by Big_Breaker ( 190457 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @11:28AM (#50892861)

      That's the biggest issue with implants. They seem to cause harm to the adjacent tissue and eventually stop working. We need "softer" implants that last a long time themselves and let the tissue they are connected to last for a long time also. It seems to me that grids of needles are a dead-end for long term viability.

    • If you RTFA, you'll see the problem was the FDA wanted safety data he couldn't provide as he did not have the funds to obtain the data.

    • The FDA is concerned about coercion. We find this all the time -- someone wants to do something voluntarily. Someone else doesn't, but gets coerced into it through some sort of blackmail and forced to claim to be a volunteer. The only way anyone has found to block the coercion is to block the volunteers.

      You see this all the time in work contracts for unions -- the union wants to stop business from demanding ridiculous overtime, so they negotiate limit X. They then include a clause that bans anyone from volu

  • If you're willing to put electrodes in your own brain for the sake of science... yea, title earned.

  • Professor Kevin Warwick [wikipedia.org] AKA Captain Cyborg never went as far as putting an implant in his brain, so I think that Phil Kennedy now deserves the nickname, and in a less ironic sense than it was applied to Prof Warwick. Much respect for hacking your own cranium.

  • Experimenting on himself? Well, he may be a neuroscientist, but he sure ain't no brain surgeon.

  • by PPH ( 736903 )

    I can't get this [wordpress.com] image out of my head.

  • Am I the only one who read this as "breast implant" ?
  • With a sample of one, I'm sure the FDA and his fellow Neuroscientists will be thrilled by his data. His research lacks any statistical power at all! I think it's cool that people are willing to risk brain damage to contribute to science (not sarcasm), but they should consider what it is they are actually contributing. How do we know that those particular neurons he singled out aren't unique to him? That is, their functional role in him could differ in some ways from those neurons in others. That's just one

  •   Judging by the ever-increasing, ever more weird malarkey coming out his mouth, he needs a brain implant asap.

  • I misread this at first as:

    The Neuroscientist Who Tested a Brain Transplant On Himself
  • I'm still confused as to why the FDA has any say on what this man is allowed to do.... Sounds like another gov org overstepping their boundaries......again.

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