Friday, July 9, 2010

Brain chip for paralysed patients

Scientists have developed a brain chip that will help paralysed patients operate their bionic limbs.
The technology employs tiny microchips to sense nerve messages, decode the signals, and turn thought into movement.

The scientists hope that within five years they will be able to offer patients with damaged spinal cords robotic devices that will enable them to move their arms or legs at will.

Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, heading a University of Leicester team working on the project, said such patients retain the ability to “think” commands from the brain.

“The guy can see the object he wants to reach, the guy can have the intention to reach to the object, the brain can send a command to the arm — ‘reach for this cup of tea' — but the signal gets broken at the level of the spinal cord,” he said.

“If we can get the signals from these neurons and interpret them with what is called decoding algorithms, then we can move a robot device placed on the paralysed arm,” he added.

The more ambitious idea is not to use robotic devices but to replace the broken connection to the limb with an artificial link.

The brain chip would then send signals to an implanted stimulator in the spinal cord. This would generate electrical impulses that would make muscles contract and move paralysed limbs.

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