Sunday, October 19, 2008


I am always intrigued when computer technology, my expertise, is successful in solving medical problems. Today I stumbled upon one such article.

"Charles Higgins, an associate professor at the University of Arizona, built a robot that is guided by the brain and eyes of a moth. Higgins said he basically straps a hawk moth to the robot and then puts electrodes in the neurons that deal with sight in the moth's brain. Then the robot responds to what the moth is seeing -- when something approaches the moth, the robot moves out of the way."

They have implanted electrodes into the motor cortex of monkey's brain about 18 months ago. They interpreted the signals the monkey's brain used to move his legs, then they connected this to a robot in Japan over the internet. They showed the monkey a webcam of this robot which walks around like he does, and he started monkeying with it. He started making it walk faster or slower, it made him happy, and they rewarded him with Cheerios. What does this mean to you and me? It means that people who are paralyzed may soon be able to walk using robot legs!

So, what's next? They took a monkey who plays video games, and they used this technology to wire the monkey's motor cortex to stimulate his actual muscles. They then used anesthesia to deaden the nerves to his hand. The monkey learned how to flex his wrist to play the video game again and could control the strength of his wrist flexion.

In their experiments, monkeys were enabled to flex and extend their wrist to play a video game by artificially stimulating arbitrarily chosen motor cortex cells in their brains. The monkeys' wrist nerves were temporarily numbed with a local anesthetic, which paralyzed the muscles, according to the report. But despite the nerve block, the monkeys were still able to control the contraction strength of their wrist muscles. University scientists noted that controlling the strength of the muscle contraction is what allows someone to gently pick up an egg or grab tightly to a handrail.
I think it's fantastic.

Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University and lead researcher on the project, said at the time the research may only be a few years away from helping paralyzed people walk again by enabling them to use their thoughts to control exoskeletons attached to their bodies.
Friends, we live in amazing times.

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