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Monkeys adapt robot arm as their own

DURHAM, N.C. -- Monkeys that learn to use their brain signals to control a robotic arm are not just learning to manipulate an external device, Duke University Medical Center neurobiologists have found. Rather, their brain structures are adapting to treat the arm as if it were their own appendage.

The finding has profound implications both for understanding the extraordinary adaptability of the primate brain and for the potential clinical success of brain-operated devices to give the handicapped the ability to control their environment, said the researchers.

Led by neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis of Duke's Center for Neuroengineering, the researchers published their findings in the May 11, 2005, issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. Lead author on the paper was Mikhail Lebedev in Nicolelis's laboratory. Other coauthors were Jose Carmena, Joseph O'Doherty, Miriam Zacksenhouse, Craig Henriquez and Jose Principe. The work was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the James S. McDonnel Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.

In the study, Lebedev performed detailed analysis of the mass of neural data that emerged from experiments reported in 2003, in which the researchers discovered for the first time that monkeys were able to control a robot arm with only their brain signals.

In those experiments, the researchers first implanted an array of microelectrodes -- each thinner than a human hair -- into the frontal and parietal lobes of the brains of two female rhesus macaque monkeys. The faint signals from the electrode arrays were detected and analyzed by the computer system the researchers developed to recognize patterns of signals that represented particular movements by an animal's arm.

In the initial behavioral experiments, the researchers recorded and analyzed the output signals from the monkeys' brains as the animals we
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Contact: Dennis Meredith
dennis.meredith@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University Medical Center
10-May-2005


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