The new technology allows the brain to arbitrarily control the muscles of the limbs, bypassing the spinal cord. Potentially it will allow to return mobility to paralyzed patients. So far, however, the system has been tested only on animals.
Neurophysiologists from the School of Medicine at Northwestern University built a system that allowed the monkeys to act with a paralyzed hand rather accurately (temporary paralysis was achieved by injecting a drug blocking the passage of nerve signals).
To begin with, scientists have introduced tiny multi-electrode implants into the brain of animals, recording the activity of about 100 neurons. The primate primates were given the task of picking the ball at the end of the curved tube and again throwing it exactly into the hole.
During these tests, the computer recorded signals that the brain sent to the hand. Next, the researchers developed an algorithm for deciphering, allowing for the activity of just a hundred key neurons to restore the commands given out to the muscles.
Further, with the help of local anesthesia, scientists interrupted the connection of the brain with the arm in the experimental monkeys. The experimenters connected the neuroprosthesis to the hand. He sent weak electrical impulses to the muscles in accordance with the commands of the computer, which, in turn, on the fly deciphered the motor signals of the brain and formed the correct messages in just 40 milliseconds.
Although with such a bypassing control the accuracy of the movements of monkeys decreased, they quickly learned to perform all the same task with the ball. The authors of the work say that the situation here resembles the moment when you take in your hands a new computer mouse or a new tennis racket – at first the movements seem unusual, but soon the brain adapts to the new situation, learns how to operate the new object correctly.
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