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When you hear a term like "brain-computer interface," your mind might conjure an image of a mad scientist, donned with goggles, white lab coat, and spiky hair, whiling away in a laboratory on a dark and stormy night.
If this is the case, don't worry.
Dr. Cesar Marquez-Chin, a scientist at UHN's KITE Research Institute, doesn't mind such connotations. When asked how he feels about being heralded as KITE's resident "mad scientist," he basks in the title: "I love it!" He takes pride in thinking of outside-the-box solutions to address rehabilitation problems.
One of those solutions could revolutionize the field of rehabilitation therapy. And if it sounds like science fiction, he's very aware of that.
There is a skeptical ethos in the academic research community that promotes the idea, "if it sounds like science fiction then it probably is."
Twenty or so years ago, this was the label appended to brain-computer-interfacing (BCI). BCI is a computer-based system that acquires brain signals, analyzes, and translates them into commands that are relayed to carry out a desired action.
The fanciful-seeming nature of these ideas stopped BCI research in its tracks.
As a young biomedical engineer out of Mexico working towards his PhD, Dr. Marquez-Chin and like-minded pioneers saw BCI as a way to revolutionize rehabilitative care.
Sure, it's one thing to turn lights off and on with your brain as if one were Professor X of Marvel's X-Men. However, Dr. Marquez-Chin saw a use for the technology that could serve a different purpose.
His work seeks to explore BCIs as a new frontier to help paralyzed patients with serious rehabilitative needs regain the ability to move.