Date Published: November 13, 2003
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Partial Text: Some 200,000 people live with partial or nearly total permanent paralysis in the United States, with spinal cord injuries adding 11,000 new cases each year. Most research aimed at recovering motor function has focused on repairing damaged nerve fibers, which has succeeded in restoring limited movement in animal experiments. But regenerating nerves and restoring complex motor behavior in humans are far more difficult, prompting researchers to explore alternatives to spinal cord rehabilitation. One promising approach involves circumventing neuronal damage by establishing connections between healthy areas of the brain and virtual devices, called brain–machine interfaces (BMIs), programmed to transform neural impulses into signals that can control a robotic device. While experiments have shown that animals using these artificial actuators can learn to adjust their brain activity to move robot arms, many issues remain unresolved, including what type of brain signal would provide the most appropriate inputs to program these machines.