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Paralyzed Monkeys Can Now Walk via Brain Implants

Nov 11, 2016 05:20 AM EST

Enabling creatures with paralyzed limbs to get to their feet and walk again has been considered an impossible feat to achieve for a long time. Many have even taken the help of faith healers without any strong results.

However, a new study suggests that partially paralyzed monkeys can walk again with the help of a brain implant. Researchers recently conducted a study using two monkeys that had sustained partial injuries to the spinal cord and had prevented commands from their brain to reach their legs. The team implanted electrodes in the brains of the monkeys to record electrical signals generated from the animals' motor cortex, a system in the brain that regulates movement. These signals were decoded by a computer and translated into commands, and finally sent to the electrodes. It was seen that the spinal cord was stimulated with the electrodes. The brain-spine interface, abbreviated as BSI, circumvented the injured portion of the spinal cord, enabling the command from the brain to reach the monkeys' legs.

David Borton, co-author of the study and neuroengineer at Brown University, was baffled by how effortlessly the monkeys adapted to the new technology. He told IEEE Spectrum that the animals' behavior did not make the team notice that they were frenetic about it. Gregoire Courtine, professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, stated that much research has to be carried out before humans can take advantage of this technology. The team is now working to enhance the hardware so that it becomes ideal for paraplegic humans.

The BSI is the most recent breakthrough to have come from the advancing field of neuroprosthetics. Researchers are working to read activities in the brain and use it to control robotic arms, computers and also paralyzed limbs. Other groups are also engaged in the same work. Susan Harkema from the University of Louisville in Kentucky, for example, has used an external computer to send the generated commands to the implanted electrodes.

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