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Brain Implant Allows Paralyzed Man to Sip a Beer at His Own Pace

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Erik Sorto, paralyzed by an accident 12 years ago, was able to move a robot arm with his mind to allow him to sip a beer.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology placed an implant in the brain of a paralyzed man, which allowed him to direct the movement of a robot arm with his mind.

Credit: Spencer Kellis, Christian Klaes/Caltech

Implants placed in the region of the brain that governs planning of motor movements could give people who have suffered spinal injuries more fluid movement. The California Institute of Technology's Richard Andersen and colleagues placed an implant in the posterior parietal cortex of a man paralyzed from the neck down. They report the man controlled a robotic arm with unprecedented fluidity.

People with similar injuries have controlled prosthetic limbs using implants placed in the motor cortex, but placing implants in an area of the brain responsible for the mechanics of movements has resulted in delayed, jerky motions, as the person thinks about all the individual aspects of the movement.

Each implant contained electrodes that recorded the activity of hundreds of individual neurons, and the patterns of electrical activity from each neuron firing while the subject imagined making different arm and eye movements were recorded for almost two years. The researchers then transmitted data from the implant to a computer, which translated it into instructions to move a separate robotic arm.

"We thought this would allow us to decode brain activity associated with the overall goal of a movement--for example, 'I want to pick up that cup', rather than the individual components," Andersen says.

From New Scientist
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