Spinal cord injuries end up paralyzing people because of a small break in the neural electrical connection going down the spine. Bypassing the break with some man-made electronics could be a potential solution.
Researchers at Cornell University linked the brain of one monkey to the spinal cord of another so that when neural activity linked to arm movement was recorded in the brain of the first monkey, it was relayed to the spinal cord of the other, making it move a joystick even though sedated. Though this technology is certainly not ready for prime time, the basic components that allow for thought controlled movement of paralyzed limbs due to a spinal cord injury are essentially here.
More from Cornell:
The brain-machine interface is based on a set of real-time decoding algorithms that process neural signals by predicting their targeted movements. In the experiment, one animal acted as the controller of the movement or the “master,” then “decided” which target location to move to, and generated the neural activity that was decoded into this intended movement. The decoded movement was used to directly control the limb of the other animal by electrically stimulating its spinal cord.
The scientists focused on decoding the target endpoint of the movement as opposed to its detailed kinematics. This allowed them to match the decoded target with a set of spinal stimulation parameters that generated limb movement toward that target. They demonstrated that the alert animal could produce two-dimensional movement in the sedated animal’s limb – a breakthrough in brain-machine interface research.
Study in Nature Communications: A cortical–spinal prosthesis for targeted limb movement in paralysed primate avatars