New Hope for Natural-Feeling Neuroprosthetics
Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown in Portugal have demonstrated that the brain (rat model) is more flexible and trainable than previously thought. Major advances in neuroscience could lead to a wider range of brain-controlled prosthetic limbs that can restore mobility for people. Their new study, to be published Sunday, March 4, in the advanced online publication of the journal Nature, shows that through a process called plasticity, parts of the brain can be trained to do something they normally do not do. The same brain circuits employed in the learning of motor skills, such as riding a bike or driving a car, can be used to master purely mental tasks, even arbitrary ones. Over the past decade, tapping into brain waves to control disembodied objects has moved out of the realm of parlor tricks and parapsychology and into the emerging field of neuroprosthetics. This new study advances work by researchers who have been studying the brain circuits used in natural movement in order to mimic them for the development of prosthetic devices. “This is key for people who can’t move,” said co-lead author Jose Carmena, UC Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering, cognitive science and neuroscience.
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