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Bypassing paralyzed nerves

Implanted electrode helps paralyzed monkey clench its forearm muscles

By
12:42pm, October 15, 2008

It’s a case of mind over muscle, by way of machine. By electronically connecting a monkey’s forearm muscles to its brain, researchers gave a temporarily paralyzed monkey the ability to clench those muscles.

An electrode implanted in the monkey’s brain picked up the electrical signal from a single neuron, and the monkey learned to control the activity of that neuron to regain control of its wrist — even if the neuron was in a sensory rather than a muscle-controlling region of the brain.

It’s a powerful demonstration of the brain’s flexibility, and the first time that scientists have electronically linked a single neuron to an animal’s own muscles, researchers report in the Oct. 16 Nature.

Such an artificial connection could replace the electrical signals that nerves normally carry to muscles, but that, in people with paralysis, are blocked, the researchers suggest.

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