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HealthDay News — Researchers have been making progress in developing mind-controlled robotic limbs, with one patient's case reported in an issue of Science.

The patient has two tiny chips implanted in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), which controls the intention to move. That's in contrast to the handful of other paralyzed individuals who've been given similar implants. But in those cases, the chips have been placed in the brain's motor cortex, which is involved in the direct execution of movement. It's a key distinction, explained senior researcher Richard Andersen, PhD, a professor of neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Signals sent from the brain's motor cortex are involved in the details of movement — like "lift the arm" and "extend the arm." Signals from the PPC are "higher level," and related to overall goals, such as "I want to pick up that cup." So devices implanted in the PPC could make it easier for people to control a robotic arm with their thoughts, and make those movements more fluid and natural, Andersen toldHealthDay. He said two additional patients have since had chips implanted in the PPC, and a few patients at other research centers have had similar devices implanted.

For now, the robotic arms are confined to the lab setting. After surgery, patients are left with terminals protruding from the skull that are used to connect the implanted chips to a computer system that decodes the signals being sent from the brain — such as, "I want to pick up that cup." That message sparks the robotic arm to move. For the approach to work in real life, the technology will have to go wireless, Andrew Pruszynski, PhD, the author of an editorial published with the study, and an assistant professor at Western University in London, Canada, told HealthDay.

Aflalo T et al. Science. 2015; doi:10.1126/science.aaa5417.

"Full utilization of current implants in this way would be difficult without open access to their internals. Fortunately, threading a 16-spot electrode snake into your cochlea is not the only road to acoustic nirvana. New bone conduction technologies that make Google’s Glass sound downright primitive are already available. Cochlear corporation, one of the three big implant makers in the US, makes a device they recently trademarked as BAHA (bone anchored hearing aid). The BAHA is not your grandpa’s hearing aid; nothing goes inside the ear canal. The key element here is a screw that impedance-matches sound vibrations to your skull, and also provides an anchor for the speech processor and associated electronics.

The weak link for implants has always been communication through the skin. The BAHA’s titanium screw has a special surface treatment that aids in osseointegration (integration with the surrounding bone). The external part of the device then screws in through a gap in the skin. In theory, the entire vibratory stimulator could be put inside the bone implant. The attachment to any external processor, if needed, could be with done similarly to the way the IMS retinal prosthesis does it, with subcutaneous magnets. More likely, however, directly attached external controllers will remain critical components for these devices. Rather than a thick feed through as is the current BAHA design, something more comparable to a body piercing could adequately serve as the physical interface for an even more user-friendly device."

Image: OBJ

Image: OBJ

"...What do you get when you mix Google Glass and EEG? That’s the question that the people at Ottawa-based Personal Neuro are on their way to answering. Given the buzz around how Google Glass can be used in healthcare, and our longstanding interest in brain-computer interface, we took the opportunity to speak with Personal Neuro’s CEO, Steve Denison, about his company and what they’re building."

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