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A diagram shows how researchers first severed the nerve connection with the monkeys' arms and then reconnected their wrists via a rerouted connection to a single neuron. The monkeys were able to then move their wrists and play the game shown, which earned them treats.  (Source: Chet Moritz et al Nature)
Research are finding that rerouting nerve signals in primates may be surprisingly easy

DailyTech previously covered how monkeys had been wired with brain probes to a mechanical arm, which they learned to control.  Now another experiment has taken such concepts, much farther, reversing paralysis in monkeys through neuron implantation.

Eberhard Fetz, a professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington, led the research.  The researchers began by paralyzing the nerves leading to the monkeys' arms.  They then placed a single wire on a neuron in the monkeys’ neural cortexes.  From there they routed the signal to a single neuron implanted in the monkeys' arm muscles.  The computer detected a specific firing pattern in the brain neuron and would then signal the neuron in the arm.

The electric "re-routing" working surprisingly well and the monkeys regained control of their wrists.  Their new capability was assessed by a simple video game.  The game was controlled by the monkeys' wrist motions.  By moving their wrists, they could move a cursor onscreen and by moving it to a box on the side, they could earn a reward.  With the incentive of the reward the monkeys soon learned to move their wrists, even though the motor cortex neuron was selected at random.

Chet Moritz, a senior research fellow at the University of Washington and coauthor of the researchers' paper states, "We found, remarkably, that nearly every neuron that we tested in the brain could be used to control this type of stimulation.  Even neurons which were unrelated to the movement of the wrist before the nerve block could be brought under control and co-opted."

The research is published in the latest online version of the journal Nature.

Most previous research had focused on complex firing patterns.  This is because typically even moving one arm muscle results from the firing of multiple neurons in a coordinated pattern.  The success of the single neuron approach raises new questions about how exactly the primate nervous system processes signals.

Regardless of the mechanics, the approach works, and Moritz says that it will be very useful as it requires less computing power.  In order to apply the new research to paralyzed patients, more work remains to be done.  Most importantly, the researchers will have to learn to make multiple rerouted muscles fire coordinately as they would in the body in a complex motion such as walking, or picking up an object.

For this reason, Andrew Schwartz, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh, remains a skeptic of the new efforts.  He states, "If your intention is to generate a movement, you have to somehow calculate the effect of all these forces across the arm.  It's not just, 'Activate a muscle and the arm goes where you want.' There's a lot of math involved."

Still, the University of Washington Researchers have moved forward to where one neuron controls two different wrists motions with different firing patterns mapped to each motion and another scenario in which two rerouted neurons each controlled a single muscle (direction of motion) and worked together.  Also they say one spinal cord cell, rerouted, can activate multiple arm muscles.  Moritz states, "Stimulating a single location in the spinal cord will often activate 10 to 15 different muscles in a precise balance."

The risks are also significant.  The electrodes wear down over time.  Also if they protrude out of the skin, there's major risk of infection and disruption in a normal daily environment.  The ultimate goal, the University of Washington researchers say, is miniaturization.  Says Moritz, "We think we may be one step closer to low-power, fully implantable systems."

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By Ictor on 10/17/2008 3:02:28 PM , Rating: 2
The idea that a monkey is paralized disgusts me. Animals are being degraded to raw material, to be mutilated, totured, and mudered for a new "humanloving" goal.

RE: Disgusting
By Lord 666 on 10/17/2008 4:24:54 PM , Rating: 2
Science also tests on humans, but they are called volunteers. In those studies, they are not rewarded with treats, but paid thousands of dollars.

I'm from the school of thinking that MORE human experiments will only benefit mankind. Opening an offshore research facility to specialize on grey area ethical experiments would only expedite medical discoveries.

RE: Disgusting
By Ictor on 10/17/2008 4:34:53 PM , Rating: 4
There are no closed systems.

Degrading life in one area makes it only more likely in another. Changing society in an immoral heap, where medical discoveries become meaningless.

RE: Disgusting
By robinthakur on 10/23/2008 12:54:49 PM , Rating: 1
Your terrible spelling and lack of perspective offends me far more than the thought that we might be using a monkey to further our understanding of the human body and brain enough to allow people to walk again. As somebody who probably is not crippled, and doesn't have any family members who cannot walk you would doubtless not see what the point is. Far from being a raw resource this monkey's life has been documented in extraordinary detail, and will benefit the human race, which is more than can be said for you and your kind. The scientists carrying out these experiments exercise the utmost care and respect at all times when dealing with live specimens and have a great respect for life, minimising the pain which their subject feels where possible. To portay their fantastic work as being barbaric and analygous to mutilation, 'muder' and 'toture' beggars belief and considers only your emotion reaction and not the consequences of their actions.

If you disagree that strongly, invent an artificial brain and nerves and then we won't need to do animal neuroscience experiments anymore. You won't or can't do that because your only instinct is to hinder humanity.

Human's put humans first. Monkey's put monkeys first, so I guess that makes you a monkey.

RE: Disgusting
By Ictor on 10/24/2008 6:17:01 PM , Rating: 2
"There are no closed systems.

Degrading life in one area makes it only more likely in another. Changing society in an immoral heap, where medical discoveries become meaningless."

Apologies for the terrible spelling.

You don't know me or my kind.
I'am a human being not a naked ape. Which you as a true darwinian probably believe.
Subject = raw material.
Repect and "minimising pain to a subject" are like water and oil. They can't be in same place.
The consequences you are talking about are sciencefiction. The present consequences of their actions are animals in pain.
There will never be an artificial brain. The complexity of the brain is forever beyond humans technological capabilities to recreate.
Like attracts like. To toture and slaughter animals for medical research for some future "relieving" of human suffering, ultimately creates greater human suffering. Suffering which hinders humanity in all it's systems.

B.d.w. I want to thank you for proving my point.

RE: Disgusting
By Ictor on 10/24/2008 6:40:22 PM , Rating: 2
repect = respect = an acknowledgement of the uniqueness of each individual and each species.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer
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