London: For the first time in 15 years, a paralysed woman was reportedly able to reach for and sip from a drink without help from a carer – thanks to a robotic arm that she controls with her own thoughts.The ongoing clinical trial, is evaluating the safety and feasibility of an investigational device called the BrainGate neural interface system.This is a type of brain-computer interface (BCI) intended to put robotics and other assistive technology under the brain’s control.A new study has described how two individuals – both paralyzed by stroke – learned to use the BrainGate system to make reach-and-grasp movements with a robotic arm, as part of the BrainGate2 clinical trial.The report highlights the potential for long-term use and durability of the BrainGate system, part of which is implanted in the brain to capture the signals underlying intentional movement.It also describes the most complex functions to date that anyone has been able to perform using a brain-computer interface.For the woman, it was the first time since her stroke that she was able to sip a drink without help from a caregiver.“The smile on her face was a remarkable thing to see. For all of us involved, we were encouraged that the research is making the kind of progress that we had all hoped,” said the trial’s lead investigator, Leigh Hochberg, M.D., Ph.D., who is an associate professor of engineering at Brown University in Providence, R.I. and a critical care neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)/Harvard Medical School in Boston.“Years after the onset of paralysis, we found that it was still possible to record brain signals that carry multi-dimensional information about movement and that those signals could be used to move an external device,” Dr. Hochberg said.He noted that the technology is years away from practical use and that the trial participants used the BrainGate system under controlled conditions in their homes with a technician present to calibrate it.The BrainGate neural interface system consists of a sensor to monitor brain signals and computer software and hardware that turns these signals into digital commands for external devices.
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