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Monkeys Use Two Virtual Arms At Once

Update Date: Nov 08, 2013 12:34 PM EST
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For people who have lost a limb or more, prosthetics can give them their movements back. Even though prosthetics can be quite efficient, researchers have been trying to find new ways of improving the technology in order to offer patients even better movement. In a new study, researchers from Duke University analyzed monkeys' brains as they learned to control two virtual arms. The researchers found that for the first time monkeys were capable of moving both arms at once. They believe that this type of research could be used to find new and better treatments for paralyzed people.

"Bimanual movements in our daily activities - from typing on a keyboard to opening a can - are critically important," Miguel Nicolelis, professor of neurobiology at the University's School of Medicine said according to HealthDay. Nicolelis is the lead author of the study. "Future brain-machine interfaces aimed at restoring mobility in humans will have to incorporate multiple limbs to greatly benefit severely paralyzed patients."

For the study, the research team taught monkeys how to maneuver two arms on a computer terminal by using their brains or joysticks. The report detailed one monkey doing so without the help of the joysticks. This monkey was capable of moving the arms just by watching a projected image that showed the monkey two arms moving around a field trying to touch virtual buttons. Based on the images, the monkey was able to recreate the scene with his brain and move the two virtual arms as he attempted to manipulate the buttons as well. The researchers believe that by studying how the monkey moved the arms with his brain, they could develop new prosthetics for humans.

Currently, people with prosthetics do not have a natural gait because their brains are not connected with their prosthetics. If their brains could be tied to the movement of the prosthetics, paralyzed people would not have to consciously think about moving their attached limb. The limb would ideally move along with the rest of the body as if it was a natural part of the body.

Based on the statistics provided by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation's Paralysis Resource Center, around 5.6 million Americans or two percent live with some kind of paralysis.

The study was published in Science Translational Medicine

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