Paralysed patients use thoughts to control robotic arm
Published: 16th May 2012 18:05:51
Two patients in the United States who are paralysed from the neck down have been able to control a robotic arm using their thoughts.
It allowed one to drink unaided for the first time in nearly 15 years.
The technique, described in the journal Nature, links a sensor implanted in the brain to a computer, which translates electrical signals into commands.
In years to come, scientists want to reconnect the brain to paralysed limbs to enable them to function again.
The project was a partnership by Brown University and the Department of Veteran Affairs, Rhode Island, and the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston.
In 2006 in a previous Nature paper, the team showed that the same neural interface system could be used by a paralysed patient to control a cursor on a computer screen.
I couldn't believe my eyes when I was able to drink coffee without help. I was ecstatic. I had feelings of hope and a great sense of independence”
The key is a tiny sensor implanted on to the surface of the motor cortex.
Thinking about moving an arm or hand activates neurons in this part of the brain and the electrical activity is sent via a cable to a computer, which translates them into commands.
Both patients in this latest research project were paralysed many years ago by strokes and have no viable movement below the neck.
Video footage shows 58-year-old Cathy Hutchinson using the neural interface to control a robotic arm and bring a flask of coffee to her mouth. It was the first time in nearly 15 years that she had taken a drink unaided.
She communicates by picking out letters on a board using eye movement and wrote: "I couldn't believe my eyes when I was able to drink coffee without help. I was ecstatic. I had feelings of hope and a great sense of independence."
That was echoed by Prof John Donoghue, a neurologist at Brown University.
He said: "There was a moment of true joy, true happiness. It was beyond the fact that it was an accomplishment. I think it was an important advance in the field of brain-computer interfaces that we had helped someone do something they had wished to do for many years."
This research shows that the part of the brain that deals with movement continues to function more than a decade after paralysis.
Furthermore, the chip continues to function long-term - Cathy Hutchinson had the sensor fitted six years earlier.
The technology is years away from practical use and the trial participants used the system under controlled conditions in their homes with a technician on hand.
Nonetheless, another of the report authors, Prof Leigh Hochberg, said the team had four goals:
Prof Hochberg freely admitted that the third and fourth goals were distant ambitions but they were the "real dream" for people with such disabilities. The researchers say it is impossible to put a timescale on when this might be achieved.
Story Landis, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which part-funded the work, said: "This technology was made possible by decades of investment and research into how the brain controls movement.
"It's been thrilling to see the technology evolve from studies of basic neurophysiology and move into clinical trials, where it is showing significant promise for people with brain injuries and disorders."
At 07:00:12 in WalesCampaigners calling for a Cardiff reservoir to re-open will visit the prime minister to press their case to restore fishing and sailing there.
At 06:59:50 in EnglandA man and woman found dead in a Nottinghamshire house were stabbed, it has been confirmed.
At 06:56:53 in BusinessGeneral Motors has asked a US court to bar some lawsuits relating to its recall over faulty ignition switches.
At 06:55:04 in EnglandOne person has been arrested after three children were found dead at an address in south London.
At 06:38:57 in Northern IrelandThe Orange Order and a republican ex-prisoners' organisation have lent their support to a new course at Queen's University (QUB) that examines the use of public space to express identity.
At 06:36:03 in Northern IrelandTwo tributes to the late poet Seamus Heaney are to be held in Dublin later.
At 06:32:35 in EnglandA man has been charged following a fire at a house in Teesside.
At 06:16:09 in Northern IrelandAn ex-IRA man has made new allegations about Gerry Adams, in which he raises questions about the Sinn Féin leader's claim to have never been in the IRA.
At 06:11:26 in EnglandThe number of rats being reported by the public across Cornwall has increased by almost 50% in the past 12 months, council figures have revealed.
At 06:05:27 in EnglandSix historical buildings have been added to a register of "at risk" properties in Gloucester.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Paralysed patients use thoughts to control robotic arm [Online] (Updated 16th May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1429037/Paralysed-patients-use-thoughts-to-control-robotic-arm [Accessed 23rd Apr 2014]
News In Other Categories
A meeting to determine how the internet should be governed gets underway in Sao Paulo, Brazil later.
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
A man and woman found dead in a Nottinghamshire house were stabbed, it has been confirmed.
The Orange Order and a republican ex-prisoners' organisation have lent their support to a new course at Queen's University (QUB) that examines the use of public space to express identity.