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Researchers demonstrate direct, real-time brain control of cursor

It is the stuff of science fiction: Researchers at Brown University have used a tiny array of electrodes to record, interpret and reconstruct the brain activity that controls hand movement - and they have demonstrated that thoughts alone can move a cursor across a computer screen to hit a target.

The research was conducted using a primate model. Three Rhesus monkeys received brain implants similar to those used in treating certain human Parkinson's patients.

"We substituted thought control for hand control," said John Donoghue, chair of the Department of Neuroscience and the project's senior researcher. "A monkey's brain - not its hand - moved the cursor. Use of a reconstructed signal to allow the brain to accomplish immediate, complex goal-directed behavior has not been done before. We showed we could build a signal that works right away, in real time. And we can do it recording from as few as six neurons."

This work is a step toward enabling paralyzed humans to use thoughts to control a cursor that would allow them to read e-mail, surf the World Wide Web, or perform other functions through a computer interface.

Eventually, the technology may help individuals who have a spinal cord injury, Lou Gehrig's disease or muscular dystrophy, the researchers said. The researchers hope to apply the technology to restore some movement control in paralyzed patients. That step would entail seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has not approved this "instant-control brain cursor" technique for human use.

The findings are described in the current issue of Nature. The lead author is Mijail D. Serruya, a graduate student enrolled in the M.D./Ph.D. program at Brown. Serruya performed the work as part of his Ph.D. research. As a medical student, he assists paralyzed patients. Serruya and Donoghue conducted the research with colleagues Nicholas Hatsopolous, a former Brown professor now at the University of Chicago; forme
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Contact: Scott Turner
Scott_Turner@Brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
13-Mar-2002


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