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Brain-computer link lets paralyzed patients convert thoughts into actions

h control as Nagle, and even Nagle's level of control, the authors note, "is considerably less than that of an able-bodied person using a manually controlled computer cursor."

Despite remarkable progress, "this isn't being done for the patient's benefit," said University of Chicago neurosurgeon Richard Penn, who implanted the sensor in the second patient. "It's being done for mankind's benefit."

"Most people involved in this study think of themselves as pioneers," said Saleh. "They see the prospects for future applications. That's why they do it."

Nevertheless, Penn added, "this is the strangest, most interesting surgery I've ever done. Not the technical stuff, but the data that we get from the neurons firing in different patterns when you're thinking in different ways. And seeing it is only the beginning."

The system is constantly being improved. Next steps include faster and more precise algorithms to help the computer keep pace with the neuronal inputs, and a more portable wireless system. The researchers are also looking at new applications, such as enabling the brain-computer combo to control a wheelchair or other gadgets that will restore some control and freedom to patients with severe paralysis.

At the American Spinal Cord Injury Association meeting in June, David Chen, medical director of the spinal cord injury rehabilitation program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, presented preliminary results from a third participant in the trial. This patient, who is unable to speak because of a brainstem stroke, can control a cursor with significantly greater stability than the first two. He can stop cursor movement at will, "click" on icons and type messages using assistive software.

"We believe these advances could ultimately enable a paralyzed person to control communication devices, medical devices, computer-controlled robotics, wheel chairs ?and even their own limbs," said Cyberkinetics's Surgenor.
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Source:University of Chicago Medical Center


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