Wendell J.S. Krieg (1906-1997) and his concepts
of "electroneuroprosthesis" in 1949
Duane E. HAINES
After less than 20 years of experimental work on the nervous system Wendell Krieg proposed, in 1949, the founding of an Institute dedicated to the study of human stereotaxy and the development of neural prosthetic devices. His formal proposal, submitted to the Dean of the School of Medicine at Northwestern, was far-reaching, imaginative, and detailed. It included the perfecting of stereotaxic methods and surgery on humans, a “brain scanner”, plans for a hospital, and, of specific interest here, plans for auditory, visual, and motor neural protheses.
Krieg’s overall proposal described visual, auditory, and motor prostheses that, when developed, would allow patients to regain an acceptable level of function. He described two potential visual devices. The first was one that utilized sets of photosensitive metals which, when stimulated, would create and electrical current that could activate selected regions of the visual cortex. The second was based on the general principal of the TV camera/receiver; this device would scan the environment and selectively activate visual cortical areas. His concept of an auditory prosthetic device was based on the idea that different tones in the environment could be turned into electrical impulses of varying intensities and frequency, relayed to the auditory cortex, and the cortex activated. Krieg believed that this would provide the deaf with the basic ability to hear, and recognize, sounds. The motor device was markedly similar to the current experimental approach to reestablish motor function in the neurologically compromised patient. Stimulating electrodes would be placed on muscles (or on their motor points) and activated in a sequence that would create a sequence of muscle contractions that would mimic purposeful movement. He even envisioned a “plastic stocking-like device” to position electrodes.
This presentation will consider, and illustrate, Krieg’s concepts and ideas, their innovative nature, and will include his original illustrations.
Session I. Instrumentation and Laboratory Sciences
12th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the
History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)