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Brain Interface Series: What is Implanted Embodiment?

The word “embodiment” can conjure up an array of thoughts and images. For a patent, embodiment describes the use, production, expression, or practice of an invention. In the world of art, embodiment drives the meaning of the perception of emotion. Both are true in their own context. What do you imagine when you think of brain interface embodiment?

This takes me back two decades to my first Neural Interfaces meeting on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. As part of a panel of neurotechnology users, I and other panelists were taking questions from an audience of scientific investigators. Dr. Joe Schulman of the Alfred E. Mann Foundation posed a question like this:

“If we cut open your skull, implanted an array into your motor cortex, wirelessly connected it to a prosthetic, and then you can move by thought, would you get it?”

My gut reaction took over and I blurted out this response:

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Brain Interfaces Series: Has the evolution only just begun?

Is it just hype or are brain interfaces here to stay? Are we at an inflection point? There has been an explosion of non-invasive modalities for the brain while at the same time a thrust to commercialize brain implant technology. At this point, it seems donning a ball-cap or helmet to read signals from the brain seems more accepting than a surgical implant. On another note, a brain implant to treat a chronic medical condition seems more acceptable while the idea of a brain implant to augment human performance leads to discussions toward fears of the unknown or potential unethical practices. Overall, are brian interfaces the right thing to do? Setting aside the technical and scientific jargon, our focus is to probe this area of neurotechnology. In this series, we will explore the origins of brain interfaces, embodiment options, the bionic pioneers of our time, and where we are headed in the future. If there is a specific area that you would like to see covered, post a comment and we will add it.

Brain Computer, Brain Machine or just Brain Interfaces

Human and machine interfaces have been evolving for several decades. The heart pacemaker has advanced tremendously since its first-in-human implant in 1958. Today, they seem to be commonplace with new bells and whistles like wireless communications, rechargeable batteries, and remote monitoring. Still, the heart pacemaker seems to be in a different class since it is an intervention for a muscular organ rather than the complex neural network of the brain.

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Richdeep, Sandra & Jon

Early experiences with Spinal Cord Stimulation for Spinal Cord Injuries

Meet Richdeep, Sandra and Jon who participated in a panel discussion about their experiences as clinical trial participants using spinal cord stimulation for the treatment of spinal cord injuries. The discussion is moderated by Barry Munro with the Canadian Spinal Research Organization and John Chernesky with the Praxis Institute. Topics explored include participant expectations, benefits of involvement, and challenges to participate.

Learn more about neurotechnologies for spinal cord injury with our neurotech directory.

Danielle B.

Non-invasive stimulation to control Migraine Headaches


Stress from work and strained relationships took a toll on Danielle as her migraine headaches became more severe and more frequent. This physically active young woman who loves to cook, bake, and work out found herself struggling as her migraines started to disrupt every aspect of her life. 

Migraine headaches tend to be a hereditary condition, but for Danielle, there are no known family members with the condition. Not an official causal diagnosis, Danielle started having migraine headaches after she was in a car accident at the age of 19. As she turned into her 20s, the condition became worse. Despite taking prescription and over-the-counter medications, she still endured days, even weeks with debilitating pain. By the time she was in her 30s, her migraine headaches were at a peak where she was having rebound headaches and became resistant to medications.  She went to countless neurologists but consistently walked away feeling like they weren’t listening to her. “I couldn’t find a physician who would take the time to see my circumstances,” she says. “to really get to the bottom of it.”

Prior to the pandemic, she was working in a fast-paced healthcare environment as an occupational therapist and was pushing herself to succeed. That internal drive to succeed left her with severe migraine headaches landing her in the hospital. The standard treatment of prescription medications did not work for her and the side effects were not healthy. She tried other alternatives like physical therapy, injections or creams but none had a significant change to her migraines. Pushed to the point where she was no longer able to work, Danielle found herself bed bound from severe headaches and living on disability. 

Once the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world headlines, her condition was uncontrollable and she decided to quit all the medications cold turkey. She was taking so many medications and the side effects were unbearable. That process was not easy. “It was the worst.” She remembers, “I never felt so much pain before.” It was a friend who recommended a doctor based in Cleveland, OH. She made an appointment and traveled there. During their visit, the doctor recognized that Danielle was desperately trying to find a solution. He was the first to recommend a new, non-invasive, drug-free remote electrical stimulation (REN) device. The REN device is worn on the arm. It delivers electrical stimulation to the C and Aδ fibers in the peripheral nerves activating a brainstem-mediated pain control pathway to block the pain signal. This “conditioned pain modulation” method is believed to “switch off” the catalyst of migraine attacks in the brain. 

Interested in finding other solutions that would quell her migraine episodes, Danielle ordered the device. She was a little hesitant at first but after trying so many other failed therapies she was excited to try a potential solution. Upon her first attempt, she had mediocre results. During the second treatment session, she drastically increased the intensity with lackluster results. Turning to a Facebook group, there was one person who responded to her question about the REN therapy who had poor results as well. 

A customer service agent from the company explained to Danielle that the highest intensity is not always the most effective setting. They recommended Danielle to turn down the intensity and then try the device again. At that point, she started feeling the benefits, so much so that Danielle was using the device multiple times per day. After using the REN therapy for one year, she uses the device only when she has a migraine attack. Today, Danielle now works part-time at a special needs school and she is taking classes to earn her Bachelor’s degree in Education. 

Chronic pain conditions are seldom a one treatment fix. Many pain experts recommend a combination of methods and modalities to help people take control of their chronic pain. For Danielle, she now uses a combination of biofeedback, acetaminophen, and the REN therapy to control her migraine headache condition. She also found that using the REN therapy while in a dark, quiet room yields the best results for her.  The advice she offers to others living with migraine headaches is to search every avenue for the right treatments. Pain management is an individualized endeavor.  “Don’t get discouraged. There are always options.”


Learn more about neurotechnologies for migraine and cluster headaches through our neurotech directory.

Jill W.

Percutaneous Surface Stimulation for Chronic Pain

There are so many options for treating chronic pain but finding the right solution and getting the right diagnosis is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Jill is no exception. Living in rural Wisconsin, she lives a very active lifestyle with her husband and three children, enjoying the outdoors and being small business owners. But when her pain started to interfere with her lifestyle, something had to change. 

Jill remembers always having aches and pains, even when she was young and raising her children. The chronic pain in her lower back transformed into becoming systemic and she could no longer have a direct cause for the pain such as lifting a child the wrong way or twisting too much while gardening. The pain was constant and she wanted to know why and how to fix it. While in her 30’s she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but she as not satisfied with that labeling of her pain. 

Not having a clear treatment guideline, she began to try various options.  First was pharmaceutical.  She tried a few but did not like the way she felt and truly opposed taking medications over a long period of time. She then began to see a chiropractor, but that did not help either. She then tried an osteopathy and then physical therapy but neither was effective. Jill’s back pain persisted. She then opted for some cortisone injections into her back. It helped temporarily, but the nagging pain in her lower back would come back before she could schedule another injection. Not finding a solution in the medical field, Jill started to look elsewhere. She tried gadgets sold on-line and over broadcast television. She felt like she was “chasing rainbows” and spending a lot of money trying to find a treatment.

Jill was on the internet searching, hunting for a solution. She found the manufacturer of a percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS) device. While speaking to the company representative, she was cautious at first, even a little skeptical. She was familiar with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) but not PENS.  TENS units use pulsed low frequency electrical current delivered from a small unit through two electrodes placed on the surface of the skin.  The electrodes are small pads with a sticky gel to help conduct the electrical activity from the unit through the surface of the skin.  A PENS device sends alternating high frequency current signals from the unit through deep tissue electrodes also placed on the surface of the skin.  The PENS electrodes are different from TENS electrodes because they have microscopic needle-like probes that penetrate the surface of the skin to deliver the current deep into the tissue. The deep tissue treatments tend to have a long lasting effect. Clinical trials have also demonstrated not only a reduction in pain, but improved range of motion and reduced muscle spasms. 

Jill got a prescription for the device from her doctor and ordered the device for home delivery. Upon arrival, Jill set up the small, pre-programmed, portable device and placed the electrodes on her lower back. Trying the device for the first time, she could feel the electrical pulses on her skin but it was not uncomfortable like an electric shock. Instead, it felt more soothing like a massage. More importantly, the pain relief was almost immediate. There was no waiting for a medication or taking time to drive to an appointment. This small, handheld device was giving Jill relief from the pain that has been haunting her for years. 

Over time, she has found her body to be flexible again and her movements more fluid. After playing volleyball with her son, her shoulder was bothering her the next day. She placed the electrodes on her shoulder area and with one treatment the shoulder pain extinguished. With consistent use, Jill has found the intensity of her daily lower back pain has decreased and confidence in her motions is back. “I just don’t hurt any more,” she declared.

Not all chronic pain is the same and that warrants the many options that people have for treating it. The key is to try the variety of options to find the right solution. Learn more about neurotechnologies for pain management with our neurotech directory.

Jim J.

Paralysis & Restoration of Hand Function

Pioneers are not made; they are missioned. Conventional thinking points to scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs as the sources of innovation. They definitely have a hand in the process, but we often forget the influence that the end-user, or consumer, has on the technology innovation process. Jim was one of those pioneers that shaped generations to come in neural prosthetics. Jim was an average guy, born and raised in Northeastern Ohio. He graduated from the University of Akron with a mechanical engineering degree and went to work for Firestone in Ohio. He had a loving family and married the love of his life. He had his beloved hobbies like playing pool, scuba diving and working on his green Chevy Camaro. The oldest of six, Jim spent much of his free time with his family and his younger siblings.

One summer afternoon, Jim dove into the lake to cool off on a hot summer day after helping to paint his sister’s house. He hit a shallow spot, compressing his head into his spine and paralyzed him immediately. Jim couldn’t move and couldn’t feel a thing. Being the first on the scene, his sister, Judy, pulled her brother to the surface in a panic to save him. “I can’t feel a thing,” Jim said. From that point on, Jim entered the world as a high quadriplegic, unable to move his four limbs, care for himself, or create the mechanical drawings that he loved to do. Life would be forever different. Jim later became one of the fire people to try an experimental implanted neural prosthesis to restore function in his arms and arms….this was back in the 1980s.

Remember: We are standing on the shoulders of pioneers like Jim.


Learn more about neurotech applications for spinal cord injury.

Read more of Jim’s story in the book, Bionic Pioneers. Proceeds go toward Neurotech Network.