Foundation Awards $1.5M to Fund University of Washington's Brain-Computer-Spinal-Interface Project


Foundation Awards $1.5M to Fund University of Washington's Brain-Computer-Spinal-Interface Project




Media Relations, The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, 206-342-2526 or

SEATTLE, Wash. – September 24, 2013 – A new $1.5 million grant from The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation will enable University of Washington researchers to develop a cutting-edge system that blends technology, neuroscience and computation to reanimate hand and arm movements in patients with spinal cord injuries, the Seattle-based funder announced today.

The project, supported by the Foundation over three years, will result in an application that will improve the lives of patients, and also answer basic questions about neural signaling and engineering, which will be foundational for subsequent innovations and applications.

“This incredibly forward-thinking research effort exemplifies the type of pioneering research the Foundation and our founders, Paul Allen and Jody Allen, are passionate about supporting,” said Susan M. Coliton, Vice President of The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. “We are committed to empowering creative researchers who are taking risks and making meaningful impact in the lives of individuals and in communities with their discoveries.”

Three University of Washington researchers will lead the project, leveraging a constellation of expertise across the fields of science and technology: Dr. Joshua Smith, Department of Computer Science and Engineering/Electrical Engineering; Dr. Adrienne Fairhall, Department of Physiology & Biophysics and Physics; and Dr. Chet Moritz, Rehabilitation Medicine and Physiology & Biophysics.

There are currently no effective treatments for a chronically injured spinal cord, and hand and arm function is the highest treatment priority for individuals in this situation. The new system will record a patient’s intent to move a hand and arm via electrodes in the brain, then decode the user intention using an implanted computer and exchanging data with an external control unit. Finally, it will deliver real-time stimulation to the spinal cord to re-animate paralyzed limbs.

Utilizing new technology and techniques, the proposed system overcomes several common barriers, such as muscle fatigue, risk of infection and potentially the requirement to recalibrate algorithms used to extract intention from recordings in the brain.

Funding science is a priority area for The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, accounting for over a third of its historic giving. The new grant is complementary to work happening at the Foundation’s affiliate organization, The Allen Institute for Brain Science, and through the Foundation’s Allen Distinguished Investigators program, which supports scientists pursuing ambitious, pioneering research.

About The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation
Launched by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen and Jody Allen in 1988, the Allen family’s philanthropy is dedicated to transforming lives and strengthening communities by fostering innovation, creating knowledge and promoting social progress. Since inception, the Foundation has awarded over $469 million to more than 1,400 nonprofit groups to support and advance their critical charitable endeavors in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The Foundation’s funding programs nurture the arts, engage children in learning, address the needs of vulnerable populations, advance scientific and technological discoveries, and provide economic relief amid the downturn. For more information, go to


Christina Siderius, Vulcan Inc. for The Paul G. Family Foundation