-- Robert Preidt
MONDAY, Dec. 17 (HealthDay News) -- A robotic hand that's
controlled by the thoughts of a woman who is paralyzed from the
neck down provides her with an amount of control and movement never
before achieved in this type of artificial limb, say the scientists
who developed it.
The woman's prosthetic hand functions nearly the same as a
normal hand, according to the University of Pittsburgh team.
The 52-year-old patient had been diagnosed with a degenerative
brain and spinal disease 13 years earlier and eventually became
unable to move her arms and legs. In February 2012, the researchers
implanted two microelectrode arrays into the woman's left motor
A microelectrode array is a device that connects brain cells
(neurons) to electronic circuitry. The motor cortex is the part of
the brain that initiates movement.
The microelectrode arrays in the woman's brain were connected to
the robotic hand. She then underwent 14 weeks of training to learn
how to use the artificial hand, according to an article published
online Dec. 17 in
By the second day of training, the woman was able to move the
hand freely without the aid of a computer. Over time, she was able
to complete more than 91 percent of tasks meant to assess her
ability to control the hand, and did the tasks more than 30 seconds
quicker than at the start of the training.
The patient's rapid adaptation to the robotic hand was party due
to a new way of connecting her brain to the hand, explained study
author Andrew Schwartz.
"In developing mind-controlled prosthetics, one of the biggest challenges has always been how to translate brain signals that indicate limb movement into computer signals that can reliably and accurately control a robotic prosthesis. Most mind-controlled prosthetics have achieved this by an algorithm which involves working through a complex 'library' of computer-brain connections," he said in a journal news release.
"However, we've taken a completely different approach here, by using a model-based computer algorithm which closely mimics the way that an unimpaired brain controls limb movement. The result is a prosthetic hand which can be moved far more accurately and naturalistically than previous efforts," Schwartz explained.
This "brain-machine interface is a remarkable technological and
biomedical achievement," said Gregoire Courtine, of the Swiss
Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, who wrote an accompanying
The Society for Neuroscience has more about
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