Research like this could one day lead to better robotic limbs that are capable of smarter mind-control

A new study has mapped the neurological signals throughout the brain while patients complete tasks using only their thoughts, showing promise for mind-controlled robotic limbs

University of Washington researchers, led by Rajesh Rao (a UW professor of computer science and engineering), have used a brain-computer interface to allow patients to controls certain things using their thoughts. 

The study, which was also conducted by Jeffrey Ojemann (a UW professor of neurological surgery) and Jeremiah Wander (a UW doctoral student in bioengineering), used seven participants with severe epilepsy for testing. The patients had been hospitalized for a procedure that attempts to locate where the brain seizures begin. 

The UW team attached electrodes on top of the brains of the patients, just beneath the skull. These electrodes identified brain signals, which were sent to an amplifier and then a laptop to be be analyzed. 

The patients were asked to move a cursor on a computer screen by only thinking about the movement. In just 40 milliseconds, the laptop was able to calculate and interpret the brain signals to move the cursor on the screen. 

While other studies have been able to accomplish similar tasks, this is the first study to show what was going on in the brain while the patient was learning this task. While conducting the study, researchers observed the neurological signals throughout the brain as the patient learned the task at hand.

When the patient was first asked to move the cursor, there was a lot of activity in the prefrontal cortex -- mainly because this area is associated with learning new tasks. But after a bit of time (some as little as only 10 minutes), the activity in this area decreased because the patient had become comfortable with the task. 

"We now have a larger-scale view of what's happening in the brain of a subject as he or she is learning a task," Rao said. "The surprising result is that even though only a very localized population of cells is used in the brain-computer interface, the brain recruits many other areas that aren't directly involved to get the job done."

Research like this could one day lead to better robotic limbs that are capable of smarter mind-control. 

This study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: Science Daily

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