Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Monkey brain rewires to use robotic arm
The brains of monkeys who learned to control robotic arms rewired themselves to treat the arms as if they were real -- a finding scientists say has implications for developing limbs to assist handicapped humans.
The findings build upon a 2003 study that found monkeys were able to control robotic arms using only signals from their brains and without moving their own arms.
Miguel Nicolelis and colleagues at Duke University's Center for Neuroengineering analyzed the data to see what was happening to the primates' brain cells as they learned to use the robotic arm to position a cursor on a video screen.
"The monkey's brain incorporates properties of the robotic arm as if it was another arm and changes to adapt to those properties," Nicolelis, a neurobiologist, told United Press International. "Basically, the brain extends the representation of the animal's body and enhances the sense of self. The animal can function using two arms but also can function as if he has a third arm."