In work inspired partly by the movie “Avatar,” one monkey could control the body of another monkey using thought alone by connecting the brain of the puppet-master monkey to the spine of the other through a prosthesis, researchers say.
These findings could help lead to implants that help patients overcome paralysis, scientists added.
Paralysis due to nerve or spinal cord damage remains a challenge for current surgical techniques. Scientists are now attempting to restore movement to such patients with brain-machine interfaces that allow people to operate computers or control robotic limbs. [Monkey Avatars: Primates Move Virtual Arms with Mind (Video)]
“However, we were interested in seeing whether one could use brain activity to help control one’s own paralyzed limb,” said study author Ziv Williams, a neuroscientist and neurosurgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital of Harvard Medical School in Boston. “The benefit there is that you are using your own body as opposed to a mechanical device, which can need a lot of support and is not always practical to carry around with you.”
Ultimately, “the hope is to create a functional bypass for the damaged spinal cord or brainstem so that patients can control their own bodies,” Williams told Live Science.