Scientists in Chicago are delivering new hope to victims of spinal cord injuries. Thanks to an innovative system that includes a chip implanted in the brain and electrodes placed in muscles, those suffering from paralysis might finally get some motor function back.
The researchers at Northwestern University tested the technology on a rhesus monkey named Spike. The monkey was trained to drop a ball into a slot to receive juice. And to test how the technology works if Spike were paralyzed, they numbed his arm with anesthetic, making it impossible for him to drop the ball.
Then the scientists switched on the connection that links the 4 mm silicon chip in the monkey’s brain to an outside computer, then to electrodes in Spike’s arm muscles. The chip sends signals to a computer, which are then fed to the muscle, allowing him to move his arm with his thoughts alone – completely bypassing the spinal cord.
Graduate student, Emily Oby, says, “We can give him back the ability to activate those muscles in a quite natural way so he’s still able to pick up a ball under his control.”
It’s not perfect yet, but doctors believe there’s little reason it won’t eventually work in humans, too.