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Stigma Podcast - Mental Health

Aug 30, 2021

Today’s guest is John Donoghue. He is well known for his groundbreaking work developing Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs) to restore movement for people with paralysis, known as ‘BrainGate’. BrainGate was the original BCI system created by a company called Cyberkinetics, of which John was a co-founder.

In this episode, John gives us a primer on BCIs.  What are they? How do they work? When will they be widely adopted?  Are they safe?  How do we know?  We cover these questions and much more.

Many people consider John to be the founder of the entire discipline of neuroprosthetics which is the combination of neuroscience and biomedical engineering. He was a member of the U.S. B.R.A.I.N. initiative’s first NIH Working Group and is a fellow of the National Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as several other academies. His awards include the German Zülch Prize (2007), the Roche-Nature Medicine Prize (2010), the Schrödinger Prize (Germany, 2012), and the first Israeli Brain Technology Prize in 2013.

Links Mentioned:  BrainGate Website, John’s email

What If Fellowship:



  1. John shares his background in biology, his fascination with the way our brains control and plan movement which ultmiately led him to explore how we can use computers to restore that functionality via Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs) one day.

  2. John has spent more than 30 years focused on the potential of using BCIs to solve some of the most debilitating physical ailments that humans face.

  3. In this conversation, John gives an in-depth explanation of what a BCI is, how it works, the different types that are available, and the variety of uses that can come from each type.

  4. We discuss where BCIs started in the early 2000’s in human trials, the advancement of the technology since then and where we are today.

  5. John shares how he sees this technology being used on a larger scale, what is currently holding it back, and what it will take to get it to be used in more humans in the coming years.

  6. John shares where he thinks the opportunities are for entrepreneurs in this space and how to get involved in this technology and transform it for more uses.

  7. We discuss the ethical considerations around reading brain signals and using computers to send signals back to the brain telling it how to move the body and eventually, adjusting how people think and feel.


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Connect with host Stephen Hays here: Stephen Hays Personal Website, Twitter, LinkedIn, What If Ventures (Mental Health Venture Fund)