Wireless neural interface for restoring leg movements

The monkeys were implanted with a microelectrode array into the leg area of the left motor cortex. During recordings, a wireless module transmitted broadband neural signals to a control computer. Credit: Jemère Ruby

Over the last 15 years several teams of researchers have worked to sense the electrical signals occurring in the brain as our "mind" directs muscles to contract or relax, others to understand the correlation between electrical signals and intentional movement, others in understanding how electrical signals activates muscles. Progresses have been made in all these areas. 

An international team has published now the results of its work in merging previous results. They have proven that it is possibile to restore the ambulation capability in a monkey with a paralysed limb (a leg) by sensing its intention to move the leg through  a tiny sensor implanted on the cortical cortex of its brain and stimulating the leg's muscles with electrical signals. The connection between the sensor in the brain and the electrical stimulation of the leg's muscles is done by a wireless link.

The sensor is composed by an array of 96 probes, each one a sensor in itself, that monitors the electrical activity in the motor cortex area. The spikes are transmitted wirelessly to a computer where a software decodes the spikes patterns, identifying the "intention of movement". This is translated into electrical stimulation by electrodes implanted in the spinal cord of the monkey, below the nerve interruption. 

The researchers have been able to restore the ambulation of the monkey. It is not a perfect gait but it is good enough for the monkey to walk. It would be an amazing progress for a person who has been paralysed as a consequence of a spinal cord trauma. 
We are really getting closer, and we are getting there by integrating software, communications and sensors technologies. It is an example of ICT at its best. 

Author - Roberto Saracco

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