On-board brain chips could help stroke and cerebral palsy victims

Cyberkinetics Inc has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to begin a clinical trial in which four-square-millimetre chips will be placed beneath the skulls of paralyzed patients.

The chips could potentially allow patients to control a computer simply by thinking about the commands they want executed.

The procedure could lead to novel improvments in the quality of life of stroke victims, cerebral palsy and Lou Gehrig's disease sufferers.

Tim Surgeno, Cyberkinetics CEO said "A computer is a gateway to everything else these patients would like to do, including motivating your own muscles through electrical stimulation, this is a step in the process."

Dr. John Donoghue, Cyberkinetics founder and a Brown University neuroscientist, attracted controversial attention with his 2002 research on monkeys.

Three rhesus monkeys were given implants, which were first used to record signals from their motor cortex — an area of the brain that controls movement — as they manipulated a joystick with their hands. Those signals were then used to develop a program that enabled one of the monkeys to continue moving a computer cursor with its brain.

The idea is not to stimulate the mind but rather to map neural activity so as to discern when the brain is signalling a desire to make a particular physical movement.

"We're going to say to a paralyzed patient, 'imagine moving your hand six inches to the right,'" Mr. Surgenor said.

Then, he said, researchers will try to identify the brain activity associated with that desire. Some day, that capacity could feed into related devices, such as a robotic arm, that help patients act on that desire.


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