John Donoghue is the Henry Merritt Wriston Professor and Professor of Neuroscience and Engineering, as well as the Director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science at Brown University where he has been a faculty member for more than twenty-five years. His laboratory investigates the function of cerebral cortex and is also engaged in translational research to create neurotechnologies for people with paralysis to regain independence and control. His basic neuroscience research examines the way populations of neurons in the cerebral cortex convert plans, thoughts or ideas into skilled arm movements. This work combines novel implantable multi-neuron sensors developed in his laboratory and mathematical methods to understand how ensembles of neurons represent information and how they compute new information through their interactions. The knowledge and technical advances gained from this fundamental research is being translated into a human brain computer interface technology, called BrainGate. This neurotechnology has the potential to restore useful functions for people with paralysis, providing control of a computer, an assistive robot; it might also allow the brain to be reconnected to paralyzed muscles or to use revolutionary prosthetic limbs for amputees. BrainGate is designed to physically reconnect the brain to the outside world through a tiny ‘chip’ the size of a baby aspirin, that is implanted in the motor area of the cerebral cortex. Pilot trials of BrainGate have already demonstrated the ability for humans with longstanding and severe paralysis to use their own intentions to use send text messages, reach and grasp objects with a robotic arm, and drive a wheelchair. Moving these early stage demonstrations to real world use is one of next goals of the team of researchers Donoghue leads.
Professor Donoghue was the founding chairman of the Department of Neuroscience in the Alpert Medical School at Brown, a position he held for thirteen years. The Brown Institute for Brain Science, which he founded and leads, unites more than one hundred Brown faculty members in interdisciplinary basic, translational and clinical research on the nervous system. Dr. Donoghue has published widely in the fields of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology along with his many undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students who are now well-recognized, independent scientists and clinicians. He was also a co-founder and scientific director of Cyberkinetics, a start-up company (now no longer operating) that played a key role in translating BrainGate to human pilot clinical trials. Dr. Donoghue’ research has been honored by Germany’s Zülch Prize, the ‘In Praise of Medicine” award from Erasmus University, the 2010 Pioneer in Medicine award from the Brain Mapping Society, and a Jacob Javits award from the NIH. In addition, the BrainGate project won the 2004 Innovations Award for Neuroscience from Discover Magazine, and the 2007 R&D 100 Award, among many other awards. Donoghue’s work has been featured widely in the media, including the New York Times, the CBS television show 60 Minutes, PBS Frontline, Discovery and History channel documentaries and other international media. He has served on numerous United States federal panels for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. He is also a member of the National Research Advisory Council of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a Fellow of both the American Institute for Medical and Biomedical Engineering and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.