Bionic Man All Set to Step from Reel to Real With New Brain Implants

by Tanya Thomas on Nov 21 2008 9:32 AM

'The Six Million Dollar Man' – the 70s series on the “bionic man” revolution starring Steve Austin seems to have inspired scientists to close the gap between fiction and reality with their new and ingenious brain implant!

MicroBridge Services, based at Cardiff University, south Wales, is pioneering work in which tiny implants would be able to effectively channel brain-waves to prosthetic limbs.

The company is a leader in micro-engineering design and manufacture and possibly the only firm in the world capable of creating the implants.

The implants are the size of a match head carrying 100 sensors made of extremely hard tungsten carbide, which conducts electricity.

Only slightly thicker than a human hair, the sensors sit on the brain picking up nerve impulses and send them to prosthetic limbs.

The scientists are expecting that the technology may eventually help amputees to learn to move prosthetic limbs and regain lost mobility.

Researchers at Utah University, in the USA, asked the company set up by Cardiff University to develop durable micro-needle array sensors.

Dr Robert Hoyle, of MicroBridge Services, claimed that the company's ability to create implants using tungsten carbide instead of silicon was crucial.

And their choice is using an extremely strong material proved vital.

Hoyle revealed that the implant works by detecting electrical signals from the brain, amplifying them then transmitting them to produce movements in the prosthetic limbs.

After being fitted with an implant, the patient has to actually learn to think the correct mental activity to get the required response from the system.

While the training may require weeks, but tests on volunteers have already shown promising results.

"The outcome, I suppose, is what people call a bionic man," The Telegraph quoted Hoyle as saying.

In future, the technology may help patients paralyzed in accidents, which damage the spine. The implant would be placed on the spinal column effectively bridging the injury and allowing them to relearn how to move.