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The Art of Reading the Brain Without Poking It

by Rajashri on June 29, 2009 at 8:14 PM
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 The Art of Reading the Brain Without Poking It

Brain signals controlling arm movements can be detected accurately using new microelectrodes that sit on the brain but do not penetrate it, says a new study from the University of Utah.

"The unique thing about this technology is that it provides lots of information out of the brain without having to put the electrodes into the brain," says Bradley Greger, an assistant professor of bioengineering and coauthor of the study. "That lets neurosurgeons put this device under the skull but over brain areas where it would be risky to place penetrating electrodes: areas that control speech, memory and other cognitive functions."

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For example, the new array of microelectrodes someday might be placed over the brain's speech center in patients who cannot communicate because they are paralyzed by spinal injury, stroke, Lou Gehrig's disease or other disorders, he adds. The electrodes would send speech signals to a computer that would covert the thoughts to audible words.

For people who have lost a limb or are paralyzed, "this device should allow a high level of control over a prosthetic limb or computer interface," Greger says. "It will enable amputees or people with severe paralysis to interact with their environment using a prosthetic arm or a computer interface that decodes signals from the brain."
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The study is scheduled for online publication July 1 in the journal Neurosurgical Focus.

The findings represent "a modest step" toward use of the new microelectrodes in systems that convert the thoughts of amputees and paralyzed people into signals that control lifelike prosthetic limbs, computers or other devices to assist people with disabilities, says University of Utah neurosurgeon Paul A. House, the study's lead author.

"The most optimistic case would be a few years before you would have a dedicated system," he says, noting more work is needed to refine computer software that interprets brain signals so they can be converted into actions, like moving an arm.

IMAGE: University of Utah neurosurgeon Paul A. House, shown here in an operating room, led a study showing that brain signals controlling arm movements can be detected accurately using new microelectrodes...
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Source: Eurekalert
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