London: Paralytic patients could soon be
able to move their bionic legs or arms at will, as scientists
are close to developing a new therapy in which a microchip
implanted in their brain would enable them to sense nerve
messages and turn thought into movement.
The tiny chips, measuring little more than a centimetre
wide, will be able to read a patient`s thoughts and transmit
the information wirelessly to prosthetic limbs.
It can also decode patients` thoughts by analysing the
activity of neurons in the brain when they think of a specific
movement, the researchers said, hoping that the new therapy
would be ready within five years, the Sunday Telegraph
Prof Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, heading a University of
Leicester team working on the project, explained that such
patients retain the ability to "think" commands from the
"The guy can see the object he wants to reach, the guy
can have the intention to reach to the object, the brain can
send a command to the arm --`reach for this cup of tea` -- but
the signal gets broken at the level of the spinal cord.
"If we can get the signals from these neurons and
interpret them with what is called decoding algorithms, then
we can move a robot device placed on the paralysed arm."
Prof Quian Quiroga said that much of the technology is
already available and scientists have demonstrated that
"mind-reading" chips implanted into the brains of monkeys can
operate robot arms or move a cursor on a computer screen.
However none of these systems has involved wireless
technology. Instead, a wire has been inserted through a hole
drilled in the animal`s skull.
The researchers, who reported their project in journal
`The Engineer`, said that transmitting information wirelessly
from a brain chip is much more difficult.
A single electrode may produce 30,000 data points, or
items of information, per second, and the chip might contain
hundreds of electrodes.
"It`s a huge amount of data, so the bandwidth won`t be
enough," said Prof Quian Quiroga.
"We`re trying to do some basic processing on the chip to
reduce the bandwidth. So instead of 30,000 data points per
second, maybe we`ll be sending 100 data points per second, or
A more ambitious idea is not to use robotic devices but
to replace the broken connection to the limb with an
The brain chip would then send signals to an implanted
stimulator in the spinal cord. This would generate electrical
impulses to make muscles contract and move paralysed limbs.
But the scientists see a robotic system as more practical
in the short term.
The project, part of a 1 million pound Government
-sponsored research programme, also involves other groups from
the University of Newcastle and Imperial College London.