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Making Sense of Science

How to Use Thoughts to Control Computers with Dr. Tom Oxley

Making Sense of Science
Making Sense of Science

Tom Oxley is building what he calls a “natural highway into the brain” that lets people use their minds to control their phones and their computers. The device, called the Stentrode, could improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living with spinal cord paralysis, ALS and other neuro degenerative diseases.

Leaps.org talked with Dr. Oxley for today’s podcast. A fascinating thing about the Stentrode is that it works very differently from other “brain computer interfaces” you may be familiar with, like Elon Musk’s Neuralink. Surgeons implant the some BCIs directly into a person’s brain, but the Stentrode is much less invasive. Dr. Oxley’s company Synchron opts for an ingenious “natural” approach, using stents in blood vessels to access the brain, with some major advantages for a handful of people who’ve already started using the Stentrode.

The audio improves about 10 minutes in. There was a minor headset issue early on but everything is audible throughout.

In our conversation, Dr. Oxley talks about what it means to have a “Bluetooth brain,” the critical role played by AI in the present and future of BCIs, how BCIs compare to voice command technology, regulatory frameworks for revolutionary technologies, specific people with paralysis who’ve been able to regain some of their independence thanks to the Stentrode, what it means to be a neurointerventionist, how to scale BCIs so that more people can use them, the risks of BCIs malfunctioning, organic implants, and how BCIs help us understand the brain, among other topics.

Dr. Oxley received his PhD in neuro engineering from the University of Melbourne in Australia. He is the founding CEO of Synchron and an associate professor and head of the vascular bionics laboratory at the University of Melbourne. He’s also a clinical instructor in the Deepartment of Neurosurgery at Mount Sinai Hospital. He’s completed more than 1,600 endovascular neurosurgical procedures on patients, including those with aneurysms and strokes, and has authored over 100 peer reviewed articles.

Dr. Oxley’s work opens up game-changing opportunities for many patients, and his views on the present and future of BCIs are must listening for anyone who cares about health and technology.


Synchron - https://synchron.com/

Tom Oxley social links

Tom Oxley TED talk and website

Novel brain implant helps paralyzed woman speak using digital avatar - https://engineering.berkeley.edu/news/2023/08/novel-brain-implant-helps-paralyzed-woman-speak-using-a-digital-avatar/

Edward Chang lab - https://changlab.ucsf.edu/

BCIs convert brain activity into text at 62 words per minute - https://med.stanford.edu/neurosurgery/news/2023/henderson-brain-implant-speech-als

Making Sense of Science features interviews with leading medical and scientific experts about the latest developments in health innovation and the big ethical and social questions they raise. The podcast is hosted by science journalist Matt Fuchs

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