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Scientists devise new ways to remote control living organisms

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 by: L.J. Devon, Staff Writer
Tags: living organisms, remote control, paralysis

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(NaturalNews) Imagine a world where one person's brain could be used to control the hand movements of another through electrode stimulation... Imagine machines that could be triggered and told what to do just by one man's thought...

Remote control of living organisms becoming a reality

Scientists are on their way to making this happen. A new report published in Nature Communications shows how US scientists are making progress in the remote control of living organisms. Their demonstrations on monkeys have been described as "a key step forward" in controlling living organisms from a remote brain.

The progress is not as advanced and creepy as it sounds. University of Warwick Professor Christopher James dismissed a future of controlling other people's bodies by thought, saying "Some people may be concerned this might mean someone taking over control of someone else's body, but the risk of this is a no-brainer. ... [I]n an able-bodied person their own control over their limbs remains anyway, so no-one is going to control anyone else's body against their wishes any time soon."

The technology is about helping paralyzed people regain control of their movements

Instead, these Harvard scientists believe that this progress could help paralyzed people regain control of their own body. Their demonstrations, carried out in monkeys, show how thought can be transferred from one awake monkey through the spinal cord of another sedated "avatar monkey," allowing the "master" monkey to control the hand movements of the sedated one.

For those with spinal cord damage and movement paralysis, this is great news. The team's goal is to provide solutions for paralyzed people. Spinal cord damage, which stops the flow of information between the brain and the body, can leave people helpless. These new discoveries could remove neuron communication barriers, enabling the paralyzed to walk or feed themselves again.

Monkey's thoughts transferred to a sedated monkey and used to remotely control its hand movements

The scientists at the Harvard Medical School installed a chip, capable of monitoring the activity of up to 100 neurons, in the awake, or "master," monkey's brain. As they trained the master monkey, its physical actions were matched up with electrical activity patterns seen in its neurons.

Thirty-six corresponding electrodes were implanted in the other monkey, which was sedated. The thoughts of the master monkey were transferred by the electrodes to manipulate the sedated primate's arm. After hooking the two monkeys up, the scientists observed the transfer of thought from the master monkey to movement in the sedated one in real time. The scientists placed a joystick in the sedated monkey's hand and watched as the master monkey transferred thought to him, moving the cursor. 98 percent of the tests showed that the master could control the sedated monkey's arm, up or down.

One of the scientists, Dr Ziv Williams, said, "The goal is to take people with brain stem or spinal cord paralysis and bypass the injury. The hope is ultimately to get completely natural movement, I think it's theoretically possible, but it will require an exponential additional effort to get to that point."

The breakthroughs are just the beginning as scientists aim to help the disabled

This research is important and profound for limb amputees and those with prosthetic limbs. Even a little progress could make all the difference for paralyzed people, allowing them to control the movements of their extremities. This new research shows how remote control of living organisms could be applied to move a cursor up and down, but the technology is far from allowing the transfer of such dextrous movements as drinking from a cup. The scientists say that other factors are at play too, including muscle rigidity, which is common in paralyzed patients.

Researchers from around the country are looking forward to more progress. The head of biomedical engineering at the University of Strathclyde, Professor Bernard Conway, says, "The work is a key step forward that demonstrates the potential of brain machine interfaces to be used in restoring purposeful movement to people affected by paralysis. However, significant work still remains to be done before this technology will be able to be offered to the people who need it."

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