Monkey brains pave the way for paralysis ‘cure’

Scientists seeking to help paralyzed people use computers may have found a better way for them to steer a cursor, a study in rhesus monkeys suggests.

In some cases, paralyzed people have had electrodes implanted in their brains so they can interact with computers using electrical impulses triggered by their thoughts. The problem is they don’t get enough sensory feedback to precisely control cursor movement, said Nicholas Hatsopoulos, chairman of computational neuroscience at the University of Chicago.

The latest study, published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, used two monkeys who were trained to move cursors using their thoughts. When robot arms moved the rhesus’s real arms in tandem with the cursor, giving them a better feel for its position, they were able to hit on-screen targets about 40 percent more efficiently, the study showed.

The result may lead to new abilities for people with Lou Gehrig’s disease or certain spinal cord injuries. While people with those illnesses can’t move their limbs, an exoskeleton could be designed for patients, allowing them to grab objects, feed themselves, and interact with computers. 


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