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New Technique Activates Brain Neurons to Move Paralyzed Limb
Date:10/15/2008

Experiment with monkeys could lead to new treatments for severely injured patients

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 15 (HealthDay News) -- In the latest effort to cause movement in paralyzed limbs, researchers have found a way to activate single neurons in the brain and use them to move a paralyzed wrist.

In experiments with monkeys, the University of Washington researchers used a brain-computer interface to tap into brain cells, teach them to bypass a paralyzed area, and stimulate arm muscles. This research could lead to treatment for spinal cord injury, stroke and other movement disorders, and better prosthetic devices.

"We were interested in developing a potential treatment for paralysis," lead researcher Chet Moritz, from the department of physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington in Seattle, said during a teleconference Tuesday.

The approach used by Moritz's group is different from other methods using brain cells to stimulate paralyzed muscles. In other brain cell research, scientists tried to harness brain cells that were related to real or imagined movements.

By contrast, Moritz and his colleagues found they could use biofeedback to retrain most neurons to stimulate muscles.

The report was published in the Oct. 15 online edition of Nature.

For the study, Moritz's team temporarily paralyzed a monkey's arm. Then, they rerouted motor control signals from the monkey's brain to its arm muscles. Basically, they created an artificial path that sent electrical signals from single neurons to the paralyzed muscles.

"We recorded individual neurons from the brain area called the motor cortex, and we routed those neurons through a computer and used the activity of those neurons to stimulate the paralyzed muscle," Moritz said.

The monkeys used this stimulation to play a video game that required them to extend and flex their wrist. It was a game that the animals had
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