Paralysed could move by thinking

by TIM UTTON, Daily Mail

In a remarkable experiment which offers hope to paralysis victims, monkeys have used the power of thought to control a robot arm.

With electrodes thinner than a human hair linking their brains to a computer, they were able to manipulate the arm through their mental processes.

The breakthrough brings the merger of mind and machine a step closer and could eventually help paralysed people control prosthetic limbs.

Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina have already started working with a small group of human patients.

They achieved their success in two distinct stages.

Firstly, dozens of tiny electrodes were implanted in the brains of two macaque monkeys, named Isis and Aurora, who were put in front of a joystick which controlled a robotic arm.

They were rewarded with treats when they completed certain exercises, and soon became proficient in using the joystick.

The electrodes were connected to parts of the brain responsible for arm muscle movement, enabling the computer to track the patterns of electrical impulses in the brain for each movement.

The computer worked out that certain patterns corresponded to certain commands, such as 'reach' or 'grasp'. Once the monkeys became skilled at the exercise, the scientists disconnected the joystick and instead linked the computer to the robot arm.

When the monkey tried to raise the arm with the joystick it had no effect. But the corresponding thought patterns from the animals' brains were detected by the computer, which translated them and moved the arm accordingly.

Researcher professor Miguel Nicolelis said: 'The monkey suddenly realised that she didn't need to move her arm at all.

'Her arm muscles went completely quiet, she kept the arm at her side and she controlled the robot arm using only her brain and visual feedback.

'Our analyses of the brain signals showed that the animal learned to assimilate the robot arm into her brain as if it was her own arm. The findings tell us that the brain is so amazingly adaptable that it can incorporate an external device as a natural extension of the body.'

In time, the technology will become wireless, expanding its possible uses, he reported in the new U.S. journal, the Public Library of Science.

He added: 'The results so far lead us to believe that these brainmachine interfaces hold enormous promise for restoring function to paralysed people.'

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now