Brain Electrodes Could Mean Movement For Spinal Injury Patients

Imagine moving an object by simply thinking about that action. It’s not telepathy, but a recent development by researchers might give hope to patients with paralysis due to spinal cord injuries.

In a recent issue of Nature magazine, a team of researchers at Chicago’s Northwestern University discovered they could control body movements using electrodes implanted in the brain, bypassing the spinal cord. Electrodes were implanted in the brains of two monkeys. The monkeys’ lower arms were injected with anesthetic, making them similar to paralyzed patients. The monkeys had been trained to throw a ball into a chute, but couldn’t grasp it with numb limbs. When the brain electrodes were activated, the monkeys could use their limbs to grab and throw the ball.

This development could perhaps allow paralysis patients to control bodily movements just by thinking about the desired action. This technology is called functional electrical stimulation (FES) and it causes the brain to command muscles to contract, making movement possible. Studies experimenting with FES have been done before and could be applied to victims of strokes, too.

Technology that uses the brain to command movements of one’s body, and other devices — simply by thinking — once seemed like something straight out of a science fiction movie, but in recent years researchers have brought that invention to reality. Although, all this mind-tapping technology does present the risk of getting out of control.

by Kate Freeman

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