Thursday, June 7

When Technology meets Medical Science... Amazing!!!!

'Bionic man' can control robotic arm with his mind

A man paralysed from the neck down has shown he can open email, control a TV and move objects with a robotic arm by thought alone.

The 25-year-old American patient, Matthew Nagle, had a computer-linked implant placed in his brain that enabled him to operate devices just by thinking about it.

Brain-computer interfaces have been demonstrated before, in humans and animals. But this is the biggest step taken so far towards developing "bionic" systems that can restore motor function in people who have lost control of their limbs.

In the 1970s TV series "The Six Million Dollar Man", scientists rebuilt the body of crash victim Steve Austin with bionic prosthetics controlled by his mind.

At the time the concept was pure fantasy, but in future thought-controlled replacement limbs could be made real.

The results described today in the journal Nature represent the culmination of decades of work.

However the scientists involved in the research stress that the technology is still in its infancy.

Mr Nagle, from Massachusetts, whose spinal cord was severed in 2001, received his implant at Rhode Island Hospital in 2004.

Known as the BrainGate Neural Interface System, it consists of an array of electrodes that record neural activity from the motor cortex of the brain.

Signals from the implant are decoded and processed by a computer, allowing them to be translated into movement commands.

First, Mr Nagle learned to move a computer cursor by focusing his thoughts on the task.

Later, during 57 trial sessions at the New England Sinai Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre in Massachusetts, he greatly expanded his repertoire of thought control.

He was able to open simulated e-mail, draw circular shapes on the computer screen, play a simple video game called "neural Pong", and change the channel and adjust the volume on a television.

Ultimately, he could open and close the fingers of an artificial hand and use a robotic arm to grasp and move objects.

A second patient, aged 55, who had a sensor implanted by surgeons at the University of Chicago in April 2005, was able to move a computer cursor for three months until his implant malfunctioned.

Professor John Donoghue, who led the research and heads the brain science programme at Brown University in Rhode Island, said: "The results hold promise to one day be able to activate limb muscles with these brain signals, effectively restoring brain-to-muscle control via a physical nervous system."

Prof Donoghue is chief scientific officer at Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems Inc, based in Foxborough, Massachusetts, which developed the implant.

Previous attempts at linking brains to computers have only had limited success, such as getting patients to move a cursor to the left and right. Experiments have also been conducted with less invasive techniques using sensors attached to the scalp, but these take months of training to use.

Mr Nagle adapted to the BrainGate system in minutes, and was able to talk while using it.

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It's really amazing....the miracle of science, we can say...