The team’s goal is to build what amounts to a new body for quadriplegics.
A Brazilian-born physician and neuroscientist has a goal: A young quadriplegic, suited up in a “prosthetic exoskeleton,” will deliver the first kick at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It’s a long shot or, as Dr. Miguel Nicolelis calls it, a “Brazilian moon shot.”
But Nicolelis and his international team of researchers are one major step closer to making it happen, according to the results of their experiment, published in Nature on Wednesday.
The researchers hooked up a pair of female rhesus monkeys, named Mango and Nectarine, with electrodes implanted directly into two areas of the brain that control voluntary movement and process sensory input from the body’s cells. The monkeys then learned to use their brains to move a virtual hand – the electrodes on the motor cortex read their intentions to move, and the “hand” responded.
As the monkeys, using their “hands,” touched virtual objects with different textures, tactile sensory information was sent back to the brain. Although the monkeys obviously can’t tell anyone what the virtual objects felt like to them, they were able to complete tasks dependent on the tactile sensory information and earn a reward, meaning that the objects, at least, felt different from each other.