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Paralyzed Patient Moves Prosthetic Arm With Her Mind
Date:4/30/2013

By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- It sounds like science fiction, but researchers are gaining ground in developing mind-controlled robotic arms that could give people with paralysis or amputated limbs more independence.

The technology, known as brain-computer (or brain-machine) interface, is in its infancy as far as human use -- though scientists have been studying the concept for years. But experts say that people with paralysis or amputations could be using the technology at home within the next decade.

It basically boils down to people using their thoughts to control a robot arm that then performs a desired task, like grasping and moving a cup. That's done via tiny electrode "grids" implanted in the brain that read the movement signals firing from individual nerve cells, then translate them to the robot arm.

"We have the ability to capture information from the brain and use it to control the robotic arm," said Dr. Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, who presented her team's latest findings on the technology Tuesday, at the annual meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, in New Orleans.

However, she stressed, "we still have a ton to learn."

Right now, the robot arm is confined to the lab. After getting their electrodes implanted, study patients come to the lab to work with the robotic limb under the researchers' supervision. So far, Tyler-Kabara and her colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have tested the approach in one patient. Researchers at Brown University in Providence, R.I., have done it in a handful of others.

One of the big questions, Tyler-Kabara said, is "how much control is enough?" That is, how well does the mind-controlled arm need to work to bring real everyday benefits to people?

At the meeting on Tuesday, Tyler-Kabara presented an update on how her team's patient is faring. The 53-year-old woman had
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