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Brainstorm IL: BCI-4-ALS Academic Course

This is an update from the OpenBCI Discovery Program. Click here for details on how to apply.

1. Who are we?

We recently founded Israel’s first national Neuro-tech student community with the following aims: encourage collaboration between students in different institutions, strengthen the bridge between the Neuro-tech industry ecosystem and academia, connect the Israeli community to its international partners, and make a social impact by applying these technologies in the clinical population. We do this through university chapters in all of the relevant academic institutions which house local meet-ups, workshops, and hackathons. These communities collaborate in bi-monthly national events (hackathons, industry-academia relationships, art & design exhibitions, and national clinical collaborations).

We are now branching out to multiple Neuro-HUBs in each chapter which act as maker spaces that aim to provide the students with hands-on access to mobile brain imaging headgear, robotic hardware, drones, 3D printing equipment and workstations. These spaces house each community’s main events, weekly hack-nights, and be the experimental platform for students to innovate in the field. The first HUB was established in Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and more NeuroHUBs are coming online in other universities nation-wide. Our flagship program is “BCI-4-ALS” – a multi-institute academic course that teaches students how to assemble a working BCI system personalized to specific ALS (a degenerative neuro-muscular disease) patients in order to maintain their communication capabilities. The entire course is based on OpenBCI hardware.

2. How are OpenBCI tools being applied?

A critical part of the community’s purpose is to align developmental efforts with clinical needs. To this end, the BCI-4-ALS multi-institute academic course, is a great example of translational research. This year, the course is being held in three different universities, where the students learn to develop a complete online BCI system, and in the second semester, apply machine learning techniques to personalize the system to a specific ALS patient. The teams from each university consist of students specializing in signal processing, machine learning, electrical engineering, neuroscientists and social work / clinical psychology that work along with carefully chosen ALS patients (IsrALS foundation). We’re using the very versatile Ultracortex Mark IV as the prototyping platform, mainly due to its highly customizable and open-source characteristics. This allows each team to utilize their unique knowledge and skills and apply them towards helping the specific patient they are working with. The affordability of the system also allows us to scale and expand to many universities and teams to provide solutions to as many patients as needed. We are currently using 8 full OpenBCI hardware packs (Cyton, Daisy, dry electrodes, and the 3-D printed Ultracortex).

3. Why is this important?

One of our core values is “Make an ethical and social impact”. This project teaches students to utilize their knowledge toward helping a clinical population that frequently chooses whether to extend their life or not based on whether they will continue to have any communication capability. This is of utmost importance.

4. Who is involved in the BCI-4-ALS project?

The BrainstormIL community with over 1800 members and has over 50 volunteers across Israel, working to advance the Neurotech field. The BCI-4-ALS project has many amazing partners in this endeavour, including Dr. Oren Shriki (Head of the Cognitive & Brain Science Department, BGU), Lahav Foox, Or Rabani, and Asaf Harel

5. Want to learn more about this project?

We are constantly producing magazine articles, podcasts, events, and academic courses which can be viewed through our website (mostly in Hebrew), our FB pages, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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