This does not happen often, but scientists from Johns Hopkins University have made it possible for a man fitted with prosthetic arm to move his fingers through mind-control after a chip of electrode had been implanted into his brain.
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In a report published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, the scientists revealed their aim with the experiment is to enable patients with amputated hands or paralysis move their hands and fingers via mind control.
“We believe this is the first time a person using a mind-controlled prosthesis has immediately performed individual digit movements without extensive training,” said senior author Nathan Crone, professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “This technology goes beyond available prostheses, in which the artificial digits, or fingers, moved as a single unit to make a grabbing motion, like one used to grip a tennis ball.”
To conduct the research experiment, a young man with epilepsy who had already been scheduled to undergo brain mapping at the Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit was recruited for the study. He had earlier been scheduled for tests to pinpoint the exact origin of his seizures. He was outfitted with a device that made it possible via brain-mapping to bypass control of his own arm and hand.
Before the prosthesis was connected, the scientists mapped and monitored certain parts of the subject’s brain that were responsible for finger movements, and then programmed the prosthesis to move each corresponding finger based on this.
An array of 128 electrode sensors fixed to a rectangular film the size of a credit card, was first implanted into the subject’s brain – the part that controls finger and arm movement. Each sensor tracked a circle of brain tissue 1 millimeter in diameter. Each part of the brain lit up when the man moved each finger command when the sensor detected electrical signal.
When the prosthetic arm was switched on, the scientists urged the subject to concentrate his thoughts on moving his thumb, middle, index, ring, or pinkie finger.
“The electrodes used to measure brain activity in this study gave us better resolution of a large region of cortex than anything we’ve used before and allowed for more precise spatial mapping in the brain,” said Guy Hotson, graduate student and lead author of the study. “This precision is what allowed us to separate the control of individual fingers.”
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The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.