The Guest Lecturer

john donoghueJohn P. Donoghue, PhD
John Donoghue is the Henry Merritt Wriston Professor of Neuroscience and Engineering and Director of the Institute for Brain Science at Brown University, and a Senior Research Scientist in the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Donoghue's laboratory builds on pioneering research in neurotechnology. Brown, which has established a team of internationally recognized scientists and engineers in this emerging field, seeks to develop brain machine interfaces that can restore independence to paralyzed humans and potentially augment human capabilities.

Spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and related nervous system diseases are disabling disorders of movement that currently affect millions of people in the United States. Donoghue's lab investigates how the brain turns thought into voluntary behaviors. At the core of this problem is understanding higher level neural coding—or how populations of neurons represent complex information. To study neural coding, scientists in the lab are developing novel multielectrode recording arrays suitable for chronic implantation in the cerebral cortex. The lab is using these multielectrode arrays to examine the coding of goal-directed reaching by ensembles of cerebral cortical neurons and to examine how ensembles change when a new motor skill is learned.

The laboratory works closely with several other Brown Brain Science faculty members to develop and test theories of higher order representation and to generate new mathematical tools to examine neural codes. Brain Science faculty also are applying the laboratory's knowledge of neural codes for movement to build brain computer interfaces. These devices can potentially be used as a neural prosthetic to restore movement to paralyzed humans. Along with a synergy of talent from the departments of Neuroscience, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, and the Medical School, Donoghue's laboratory recently demonstrated the neurotechnology of these devices in landmark proof of concept experiments (Nature 2002). Using this innovative technology, nonhuman primates (monkeys) were able to play videogames directly through brain outputs. The signals are retrieved by unique microelectronic circuitry, and decoded by advanced mathematical and computational techniques. Technologies enable neural signals from a normal brain to bypass injured or diseased spinal cord, nerves, or muscle to provide a new output that can control artificial limbs, robotic equipment, or even the patient's own muscles. The devices can potentially be applied to remote control of computer interfaces or semiautonomous air or sea craft. With colleagues, Donoghue formed a new company (Cyberkinetics, Inc.) that will use tiny arrays of electrodes to capture the information encoded in the firing patterns of populations of neurons to control a computer and thence any device that can be computer controlled.