Saturday, September 15, 2012

Brain Implant Helps Monkeys Think

The Human Mind

In an article by Susan Young in MIT's Technology Review, scientists have used a neural implant to recapture lost decision-making processes in monkeys. Such neural implants might one day be used by humans who have brain damage:
While the results of today's study may take many years to translate into humans, they suggest that even cognitive processes, such as deciding whether or not to grab a cup of coffee or remembering where you left your keys, could one day be augmented by brain chips. 
Paralyzed patients have previously used brain implants and brain-machine interfaces to control robotic arms (see "Brain Chip Helps Quadriplegics Move Robotic Arms with Their Thoughts"). And more than 80,000 Parkinson's patients around the world have a deep-brain stimulation implant, which functions like a pacemaker to reduce their tremors and other movement problems (see "Brain Pacemakers"). In the new study, however, the implants could actually interpret neuronal inputs from one part of the brain and effectively communicate those outputs to another brain region.
The researchers used an array of electrodes to record the electrical activity of neurons in the prefrontal cortex of monkeys while they performed a memory task. The prefrontal cortex is involved in decision making and directs many types of cognitive responses associated with memory or other types of information processing.
If the technology proves successful, humans who have a localized brain injury would benefit; the patient would have a chip implanted with a cognitive mathematical model derived from a healthy brain, thus allowing him to return to performing normal memory functions.

You can read the rest of the article at [Technology Review]; and the paper at [Journal of Neural Engineering].

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