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Friday, 18 May 2012

Paralysed woman uses mind to control robotic arm

A PARALYSED woman has used brain power alone to take control of a robotic arm and lift a bottle of coffee to her lips after a pioneering operation.
For the first time in 15 years the woman was able to raise the bottle, take a sip and place it back on a table simply by imagining herself doing so.
The feat was possible thanks to a brain implant which translates the patient's thoughts into commands to be carried out by a free-standing robotic arm.
Doctors said the experiment proved that so-called "brain-computer interfaces" could dramatically improve the lives of paralysed people by enabling them to carry out simple tasks like eating and drinking independently.
The 58-year-old woman, known only as S3, had lost the use of both arms and legs due to stroke several years prior to the operation.
She and a paralysed 66-year-old man dubbed T2 were the first to trial BrainGate, a 4mmx4mm chip bearing 96 electrodes which was surgically implanted into their primary motor cortex, the part of the brain that governs movement.
Five years after receiving the implant both were able to use the robot to perform complex actions like reaching and grasping for objects, and S3 demonstrated the commands could be used to perform the everyday task of drinking.
She said: "I think about moving my hand and wrist. I'm right handed so, it's very comfortable and feels natural to imagine my right hand moving in the direction I want the robotic arm to move."
Previous studies have shown that paralysed patients could use similar systems to move computer cursors across a screen and control devices like wheelchairs, but the three-dimensional arm movement is the most complex ever performed in human trials.
Dr John Donoghue of Brown University, who led the research, said the experiment showed that brain cells can still produce meaningful signals years even after going unused for 15 years.
"This is another big jump forward to control the movements of a robotic arm in three-dimensional space. We're getting closer to restoring some level of everyday function to people with limb paralysis," he said.
- Nick Collins

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