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Monkey Controls Robotic Arm With Brain
Date:5/28/2008

Cutting-edge research shows animals learned brain signal manipulation to feed themselves

WEDNESDAY, May 28 (HealthDay News) -- Relying solely on brain signal manipulation, monkeys have learned to operate human-like robotic arms to feed themselves, U.S. researchers reported Wednesday.

This cutting-edge development in the field of neuro-prosthetics was made possible by linking up neural pathways in the voluntary movement region of the monkey's brain to a specially designed computer software program. In turn, the monkey's mental "firings" were turned into fluid and natural prosthetic movements -- enabling arm-restrained primates to grip and eat marshmallows and fruit with a claw-like robotic hand.

"This a step on the way to fully mobile arms and dexterous prosthetic hand that will be controlled with brain activity recorded directly from the individual brain cells," said the study's lead author, Andrew Schwartz, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The research, published Wednesday in the online edition of Nature, is being touted as a significant advance towards designing functional prosthetic devices for fully paralyzed individuals.

As such, it is a real-world leap beyond Schwartz' own previous endeavors, which explored similar brain-machine connections that would enable monkeys to use their thoughts to manipulate cursor movements on a computer screen.

As with the earlier effort, the current work, done by a research team at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, focused on the primary motor cortex -- the part of the brain where thousands upon thousands of nerve cells fire in unison to issue voluntary movement instructions.

Unable to chart the massive number of neural firings typical of movement control, the researchers inserted probes the width of human hairs into approximately 100 neurons located in this brain region
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