Research award could return voice to paralysed patients

25 January 2023

Dr Oiwi Parker Jones, Hugh Price Fellow at Jesus College, has been awarded a Medical Research Council Career Development Fellowship to create a research group in the University’s Department of Engineering Science.

The new Oxford Neural Engineering Group will focus on the development of neural prosthetics for paralysed patients, and on the development of deep learning methods for brain-computer interfaces. In addition to the MCR award, Oiwi will also become a Principal Investigator at the Oxford Robotics Institute.

White male with brown hair and slight beard, wearing grey v-neck jumpe

Dr Oiwi Parker Jones

Remarkable progress has been made in recent years to develop technology that uses the brain’s encoding and muscle control commands to enable people who have lost the power of speech to be able to communicate. Such technologies can, however, be extremely invasive for the patient, requiring surgical procedures and risky brain implants. Oiwi’s research aims to develop safe, non-invasive technologies for neural speech decoding. These have the potential to help patients suffering speech paralysis sooner, and without the need for surgical intervention.

“Our goal is to create new communication tools for paralysed patients, such as those with locked-in syndrome, by developing non-invasive prosthetics that enable their inner speech to be heard – to give them the opportunity to communicate again without the danger of brain surgery”, he explains.

Brain imaging technology has advanced, so we can now process orders of magnitude more high-quality neural data than was previously possible. Of course, there have also been incredible advances in machine learning. So our strategy is to leverage the large amounts of data we collect to develop new deep learning methods, to apply these methods to decode inner speech from brain signals, and ultimately to create neural prosthetics that will restore patients’ ability to communicate with their caregivers and families”.

Patients who have undergone laryngectomies or suffered traumatic brain injuries or strokes could benefit from such neural prosthetics, as could people with degenerative conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease.

The Oxford Neural Engineering Group will comprise a multidisciplinary research team, including engineers, computer scientists, neuroscientists and clinicians, and their work will begin later this year.

To read more about Oiwi’s academic background and research, click here.