Walt Besio

Title: Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Expertise: neural engineering, rehabilitation engineering, physiological control

Thanks to an electrode he invented and patented, Professor Walt Besio can read minds. His bull’s-eye electrode is so sensitive it can translate a person’s thoughts into electrical impulses that can be read by a computer. His hope is that the electrode will eventually enable people who are paralyzed to use their thoughts to control their phone, television or other things in their environment. “The electrode allows me to see things that others haven’t been able to see before,” said the associate professor of biomedical engineering.

Professor Besio’s cutting-edge device automatically cancels noise and detects brain signals otherwise indiscernible by currently used electroencephalogram equipment. That sensitivity has also allowed him to take big steps toward improving the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy. Unlike existing electrodes, Professor Besio’s invention can precisely pinpoint where on the brain a seizure originates, helping to diagnose disease. The electrode can also be used in a therapeutic manner, controlling seizures by administering an electrical stimulus to a precise location in the brain.

Not satisfied with using his device as an academic exercise, Besio has formed a company and was accepted into the first class of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, a prestigious program administered at Stanford University designed to quickly transition promising research from the laboratory to the commercial market.

Besio chose to become a biomedical engineer to help his brother regain mobility after becoming paralyzed in a car accident. “My goal is to help alleviate pain, disability, disease and suffering in society,” he said. And as one of the few Native American scientists in his field, he aims to do so with a widely diverse research team.

Going forward, Professor Besio’s research will contribute to the work of URI’s new George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience in bringing more funding and focus to the important area of neurodegenerative disorders, and hopefully lead to a breakthrough that will transform the lives of the millions affected by neurological diseases every day.

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URI launches new graduate interdisciplinary neuroscience program with international neurology leader; former congressman

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