The new brain machine could help those with paralysis  (Source:
The machine has already helped a monkey move its paralyzed hand

Northwestern University researchers have created a machine that could one day allow paralyzed patients to move their hands again.

Lee E. Miller, study leader and professor of neuroscience, physiology, physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, developed a brain machine that sends messages from the brain directly to paralyzed muscles (without passing through the spinal cord), allowing the muscles to move again.

To do this, Miller and his team implanted electrodes into monkeys and recorded electrical brain and muscle signals. Using the recordings, the researchers created an algorithm that allowed them to interpret the signals and understand patterns associated with muscle activity. In other words, the team managed to compute the relationship between the brain and muscle activity.

"We are eavesdropping on the natural electrical signals from the brain that tell the arm and hand how to move, and sending those signals directly to the muscles," said Miller. "This connection from brain to muscles might someday be used to help patients paralyzed due to spinal cord injury perform activities of daily living and achieve greater independence."

Miller and his team tested the brain machine on a monkey that had a local anesthetic block nerve activity at the elbow. This caused temporary paralysis of the hand. Then, using neuroprosthesis, which were devices in the brain and arms that sense a plethora of movements the monkey may want to make (such as gripping a ball), the monkeys brain signals controlled tiny electric currents that were delivered to the muscles in less than 40 milliseconds. The monkey was allowed to pick up a ball almost as it did before its hand was paralyzed.

Part of the system was an implant called a multi-electrode array, which is capable of detecting 100 neurons' activity in the brain. It acts as an interface between the brain and the computer used to interpret signals associated with hand movements.

Miller said the system could help those with paralysis learn to move their hands and possibly other muscles in the body at some point.

Source: Eurekalert

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