BrainGate device helps move objects with the power of mind

There are a lot of paralyzed and disabled people around the world today. These people cannot imagine their life without others and many of them feel uncomfortable about it. For many years scientists have been doing their best to help such people and to ease their lives and only today they seem to have found the solution.

A brain implant makes it possible for paralyzed patients to move a robotic arm and a computer cursor with some ease, says a study released Thursday.

The report published in the journal Nature comes amid intense efforts by neuroprosthetics researchers to give paralyzed patients more normal lives.

A second journal study involving two monkeys suggests such implants may allow paralyzed people to type the equivalent of 15 words a minute.

Brain implants "are really a launching pad for a whole new kind of neurotechnology," says John Donoghue of Brown University in Providence , co-author of the first study. He and colleagues report that an implant enabled a 25-year-old paralyzed man to squeeze a robotic hand and use a robotic arm to move objects and a computer cursor.

Unlike efforts that employ non-invasive scalp readings of brain activity, researchers surgically attached a rigid 100-electrode sensor, about the size of a pencil eraser tip, atop the motor-control region of the paralyzed patient's brain, USA Today says.

Ninety-six electrodes, which sit on a 0.2-square-inch (4-square-millimeter) panel, were implanted into the patient's motor cortex, a part of the brain responsible for movement.

The electrode panel is attached by a cord to a penny-size titanium disk on the outside of his skull.

The disk serves as an attachment for wires that connect to a computer, which has been programmed to interpret the messages of the man's firing brain neurons.

The research is the first evidence that the motor cortex of people with spinal cord injuries can function fairly normally even years after their injuries, according to the researchers, The National Geographic reports.

Called BrainGate and made by Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems in Foxboro, Mass., the device has previously been described at scientific meetings and in the media. But the Nature article marks a milestone, detailing the findings for the medical and scientific community and featuring Brown researchers on the cover of a prestigious peer-reviewed journal.

In June 2004, Rhode Island Hospital surgeons implanted a tiny computer chip onto the brain of Matthew Nagle, a 25-year-old Massachusetts man whose spinal cord had been severed when he was stabbed in the neck. Nagle cannot move his arms or legs and relied on a ventilator to breathe. The chip, it was hoped, would pick up signals from Nagle's brain when he thought about moving his arm, run those signals through a "decoder," and translate them into commands a computer could understand, Providence Journal says.

Previous methods of using the brain's electrical activity to control objects involved using electrodes stuck to the surface of the scalp. But the equipment is cumbersome and takes weeks or months to calibrate. Despite being more invasive, BrainGate is much easier to use, but there are several problems to overcome before the implant becomes available commercially.

Prof Donoghue also wants to extend the length of time the implant can stay in the brain. "The biggest concern is, how quickly does the body attack the device? A five to 10-year timeframe looks doable but we're looking for things that last decades," he said.

The long-term goal is to pair BrainGate with a muscle stimulator system, which would allow people with paralysis to move their limbs again, The Guardian reports.

Source: agencies

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik

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Author`s name Alex Naumov