Physician Seeks to Improve Prosthetics with Brain Control

By Steve Lewis

Karunesh Ganguly, MD, PhD

Karunesh Ganguly, MD, PhD

SAN FRANCISCO – Once upon a time, brain-machine interfaces were the stuff of science fiction, but not any longer. In fact, in the not too distant future, veterans may benefit from the work of healthcare professionals like Karunesh Ganguly, MD, PhD, of San Francisco VA Medical Center, who is seeking to develop a technology to enable those with permanent disabilities to control their prosthetics by interfacing with their brains.

Ganguly was recently recognized for his work, receiving the 2012 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

“The area of brain machine interfaces has gained steam over the past two decades,” Ganguly relates, noting that the main concept is that, because the brain is a bioelectrical system, there should be a way to interface it with an electronic mechanical device.

“We’re seeking to make life better for veterans with disabilities,” Ganguly continues, noting that his specific research is focused on trying to help patients who have lost control of their upper limbs. Progress has already been made in work with monkeys, says Ganguly, and the ultimate goal is to learn how the brain can truly learn control of these foreign devices.

VA Funds Research

Ganguly says his research in this area began when, as a post-doc fellow, he was funded through a VA Career Development Award (CDA). “This grant came after my residency in neurology, and it was really nice because it allows for 20% of your time to be spent in clinical training and practice and 80% in research,” he explains. “It also allowed for work off-site; through that initial research we have now started an independent lab at the VA Mission Valley facility.”

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