Professor of Neuroscience John Donoghue was elected to the Institute of Medicine two weeks ago for his groundbreaking development of technology to restore mobility to disabled individuals. Donoghue and his research team at BrainGate take the phrase "mind over matter" to a whole new level. Their research involves using neural signals and robotic arms to restore movement to those who have lost control of their limbs.
"He's done really unique and amazing experiments," said Barry Connors, professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience. Despite being unable to move their limbs, those brains of those who are paralyzed still possess the ability to send messages of movement. Connors describes the use of algorithms by Donoghue and his team as an attempt to make sense of what the nerve cell activity in the part of the brain that controls movement, known as the motor cortex, is trying to say.
Members of the Institute of Medicine, a nationally recognized reference for medicine and health, provide knowledge, analysis and recommendations in their particular fields. The institute "asks and answers the nation's most pressing questions about health and health care," according to its website.
New intitute members are elected by current members based on their contributions to the medical world. "It's the highest distinction in the field (of medicine and health)," said Judith Salerno, executive officer of the Institute of Medicine. The election process starts with a nomination, which has to be seconded and then voted on by the insitute's full membership. "(Donoghue) has already proven that he's made significant contributions to the field and that his work is on the forefront of systems neuroscience," Salerno said. "It doesn't get any better than that," she added.
"It's a real honor to be elected to this group of people who are called upon to talk about policies in medicine for the country, especially by your peers," Donoghue said. He explained that members of the institute are asked to "contribute knowledge to science and medicine policy."
"We look forward to drawing on their knowledge and skills to improve health through the work of the IOM," said Harvey Fineberg, the institute's president, in the news release that announced this year's 80 new members and foreign associates.
"It's hard to predict the future," Connors said, noting the possible implications of Donoghue's research for those who are paralyzed. "But maybe in the fairly near future, there might be some hope that they can have practical devices to really dramatically improve their lives and allow them to interact with the world much better than they can now," he added.
Donoghue said he finds it rewarding that he is able to see his research be a fundamental part of helping others "to live an independent life." He also added that it is "extremely exciting to be able to spend my life understanding and learning how the brain works."