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Researchers at the University of Chicago have successfully implanted brain-computer interfaces on monkeys that have lost their limbs in accidents, allowing them to control robotic arms through conscious thought, via a computer.

In conducting recent experiments, a team of scientists from the University of Chicago has demonstrated that brain/computer interfaces can be implanted on monkeys that have lost their limbs in accidents, allowing them to move robotic arms through power of thought.

Previous research focused on paralysed people and whether they can benefit from technology that lets them move devices simply by thinking of wanted movements. This latest development will significantly benefit amputees also.

 

A computer-operated robotic arm 

 

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications centred on three rhesus monkeys that lost their limbs in accidents between four and ten years previously. With two of the monkeys, the scientists implanted electrodes at the motor cortex on the side of the brain in charge of the amputated limb. The third monkey had electrodes placed on the opposite side, which still controlled the intact limb.

The electrodes were connected to a computer, in turn linked up to a robotic arm. The three monkeys were trained to move the robotic arm through conscious thought while the implanted electrodes monitored neuronal activity. 

 

Reconstructed neural connections 

 

The three monkeys became proficient in moving their robotic arms, while the scientists also found that in the first two monkeys the neural connections in the part of the brain that ought to control the amputated limb grew significantly both in terms of density and signal strength.

As for the third monkey, which had the implants placed on the side controlling the existing arm, researchers noted a significant fall in neuronal activity and connection density, which subsequently improved and returned to a seemingly more normal state.

The research demonstrates that the brain is extremely adaptive, while neuroplasticity can be harnessed to help recover lost function and train brain regions to perform tasks they were never meant to perform. Such conclusions will be of aid to both paralysed people and amputees in the not-too-distant future.

 

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