“Nicolelis Lab Series – 20 Years of Brain-Machine Interface Research”, make available to the public the scientific articles produced in 20 years of research in the Nicolelis Labs.

Volumes 1 and 2 of the “Nicolelis Lab Series – 20 Years of Brain-Machine Interface Research” have been published in the ISUU platform. They contain more than 800 pages of scientific papers on brain-machine interface (BMI) research produced by Dr. Miguel Nicolelis’ laboratories in the US (Duke University) and in Brazil (AASDAP and the International Neuroscience Institute Edmond and Lily Safra) in the last 20 years, as well as review and opinion papers and an exclusive introduction written by Dr. Nicolelis. The articles comprehend from the creation of the BMI concept until its application as a therapy for neurological disturbs and the neurorehabilitation of people with spinal cord lesion.

The volumes are available for free reading and download, providing access to scientific articles normally restrict to academia.


(From Volumes 1 and 2 of the “Nicolelis Lab Series – 20 Years of Brain-Machine Interface Research).

Exactly twenty years ago, in July 1999, Nature Neuroscience, then a recently launched scientific journal, published a manuscript entitled “Real-time control of a robot arm using simultaneously recorded neurons in the motor cortex.” The result of one more collaboration between my laboratory and John Chapin’s, this paper launched the field of brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) in earnest and caused a major sensation in the neuroscience community. Curiously, the name brain-machine interface would only appear a year later (Nicolelis, 2001), coined in a review paper entitled “Actions from thoughts” that I wrote for Nature, following a request by one of its editors, Charles Jennings, who happened to be the first editor-in-chief of Nature Neuroscience.

To celebrate the twenty-year anniversary of that landmark paper, I have decided to collate all BMI-related articles published by my lab at the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, as well as the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience and the neurorehabilitation laboratory that I founded in Brazil during the past two decades. The aim of this initiative is to place in two volumes, the first of a series entitled the Nicolelis Lab Series, the entire library of manuscripts that my students and I have produced as a result of our research in the BMI field. To some degree, these volumes are also historic documents that show the evolution of our ideas in the area as well as the many “spin offs” that emerged from our tinkering with the original – and now classic – concept of BMIs. That included our transition from using this approach primarily as a basic science tool to probe the brain, in search of the physiological principles governing the behavior of neuronal circuits – or neural ensembles, as I like to call them – to our current major drive to develop assistive and even therapeutic strategies for neurological and psychiatric disorders that incorporate BMIs, either alone or in conjunction with other technologies (e.g. virtual reality and robotics) and clinical approaches.

To help seasoned practitioners and newcomers alike, I have divided the manuscripts that form these two volumes in multiple categories, which loosely cover some of the history of the BMI field, at least the way I see it, while offering a reasonable way to reconstruct how the rational and experimental work performed in my labs evolved until it reached its current focus on developing multiple BMI-based therapies.

Following this basic structure, Volume 1 begins with a collection of manuscripts that I deem the “Foundation” papers. This section contains some of the key studies executed, initially when I was a postdoc in John Chapin’s lab, and then by my own lab at Duke University that led to the maturation and optimization of the fundamental experimental methods employed in the invention and dissemination of BMI during its first fifteen years (Nicolelis et al., 1995). I am referring to the neurophysiological approach known as chronic, multi-site, multi-electrode recordings in behaving animals, which John Chapin and I originally developed and implemented in rats, between 1989 and 1993, and which I lately adapted and scaled up with the goal of carrying out studies with New and Old World non-human primates. This shift from rodents to primates was pivotal for our lab’s ability to follow up the original Nature Neuroscience study with the first demonstration of a BMI in primates, published a year later, in Nature (Wessberg et al., 2000).

The next section in Volume 1, Essential Methods, contains a large list of manuscripts that describe in detail all the key neurophysiological, biomedical engineering, computational, robotics, and behavioral approaches that played a central role in the development of all BMIs implemented in my labs. This section is followed by clusters of papers that summarize our experimental studies in rodents and primates. Volume 2 begins with the collection of all our clinical BMI studies to date. The next two sections of Volume 2 are dedicated to three special BMI spinoffs that were originally proposed and developed at great length by our lab at Duke University. I am referring to the creation of sensory neuroprosthesis in rodents (our “infrared rat project”), and two paradigms at the edge of the field: brain-to-brain interfaces and brainets. In the latter section, I include a recent manuscript that reports on the first demonstration of simultaneous, multi-brain, multi-channel recordings based on wireless technology (Tseng et al., 2018). This is particularly relevant because, in the future, this approach will allow neurophysiologists to perform animal social studies while concomitantly recording the brain activity from large numbers of untethered subjects interacting among themselves. By the same token, this approach will allow the concept of “shared BMIs,” i.e. a BMI operated by the simultaneous contributions of multiple individual brains engaged in the collective performance of a behavioral task.

The final two sections of Volume 2 contain a series of opinion and review papers, including a very comprehensive and recent review of the entire field of BMI, including its historic origins, and potential future clinical applications (Lebedev and Nicolelis, 2017).

Revising all this material brought me a lot of great memories and rekindled some of the tremendous “academic battles” John Chapin and I had to fight in the beginning to convince some of our more recalcitrant and conservative colleagues in systems neuroscience that BMI was not only a legitimate experimental tool to probe the brain, but that, in due time, it could also become a major approach to assist and treat patients suffering from a variety of brain disorders that still today challenge clinicians, given the lack of suitable therapies to ameliorate them. Fortunately, the vast majority of these colleagues, given the evident success of the field and its clear potential benefits, have graciously changed their minds to become enthusiastic supporters of this quickly expanding field of inquiry. A few, sadly, still resist, calling BMI only an “applied science,” as if this is an offense to those of us who took the field, in twenty years, from its basic science origins, all the way to clinical studies that promise to unleash the full potential of this paradigm to millions of patients.

Since our public demonstration of the potential impact of BMIs during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil, when a paraplegic patient was able to use a non-invasive BMI to deliver the opening kickoff of that event for a worldwide TV audience estimated at 1.2 billion people, the public fascination with BMIs, and its potential impact for the improvement of patients suffering from brain disorders, has skyrocketed all over the world. Having witnessed, many times over, the enthusiastic reaction of scientific and lay audiences alike all over the planet, when I show them that those humble rat studies, carried out in John Chapin’s Philadelphia lab in the early 1990s, allowed us, merely twenty years later, to offer a paraplegic young man, paralyzed from the mid-chest down, a way to walk again only by his own thinking, I can only say that it was all worthwhile.

By a long shot