Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Monkeys wired to a computer were able to move and feel images on a screen using only brain power, according to researchers who say the experiment may lead to devices to help paralyzed people regain movement and touch.
The research, carried out at the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, was the first time a primate brain could receive tactile messages and interact with them, according to the study published today in the journal Nature. Previous studies have demonstrated monkeys could be trained to move a computer cursor with their thoughts.
“This is basically one of the holy grails of this field,” Miguel Nicolelis, professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center and co-director of the Duke Center for Neuroengineering, who was senior author of the study, said in an interview. “No other study has provided an artificial sensory channel directly to the brain of animals. This is really needed to restore in patients that have a spinal cord injury not only their mobility, but their sense of touch.”
Sensors implanted into the monkeys’ brains received different signals depending on what texture a virtual hand touched. All the objects looked the same, so the monkeys had to find the correct texture using the sensory feedback from the fake limb.
“This gives us hope now to move forward with our plans to create a whole body robotic exoskeleton that quadriplegic or paraplegic patients will be able to wear and command with their brains,” Nicolelis said. A group is working to demonstrate the technology in three years, he said.
The study was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
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