159261789 webComputers have assisted in passing information from an implant in a monkey’s brain to another’s spinal cord.

From Able Magazine #110 (March/April 2014)

The experiment carried out at Harvard Medical School, USA, essentially linked two monkeys together, making one able to control a few basic functions of the other, such as moving a joystick. This proves that the signal captured from the implant is detailed enough for it to be transferred and to work in another animal. This could have implications for people with paralysis, where their brain signals could be collected and effectively set to bypass damaged nerves.

Christopher James, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Warwick who does similar brain computer interfacing research in the UK spoke with Able: In this particular case they’ve gone a step further in the sense that they’ve managed to disentangle that intention to move the arm in more fine detail. They’ve managed to capture the signal and feed it back into the second primate and get them to move their arm with really fine motor movement.

The avatar (receiving) monkey was implanted with a chip which stimulated the part of the spine that controls hand movements. Professor James added a note of caution, saying: “What isn’t clear in the research, and I think the authors have even said this: the second primate didn’t have motor damage – didn’t have a damaged spine. So what’s not clear is that if they tried it on a person with atrophy, how it would react. (The theory suggests that) If we bypass the break in the spine we interface with the remaining part of the spine and to the limbs.”

Whilst brain computer interfacing experiments have involved human subjects, the complicated nature of this latest research means that clinical trials involving humans are at least a few years away. “We’re not talking decades away because there are already artificial limbs that do what we want them to do; we can already interface using nerve endings quite exactly” concludes James.