London, May 29 : Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have announced that a monkey in their experiments has been successful in moving a robotic arm to feed itself marshmallows and chunks of fruit by using signals from its brain.
The researchers revealed that the monkey performed this task as its arms were restrained for the restrained.
Explaining the significance of their study, the researchers said that it might benefit development of prosthetics for people with spinal cord injuries, and those with "locked-in" conditions like Lou Gehrig's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
"Our immediate goal is to make a prosthetic device for people with total paralysis. Ultimately, our goal is to better understand brain complexity," Nature magazine quoted Dr. Andrew Schwartz, senior author and professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, as saying.
"Now we are beginning to understand how the brain works using brain-machine interface technology. The more we understand about the brain, the better we'll be able to treat a wide range of brain disorders, everything from Parkinson's disease and paralysis to, eventually, Alzheimer's disease and perhaps even mental illness," added Dr. Schwartz.
The researcher revealed that the technology is based on computer software that interprets signals picked up by probes the width of a human hair.
He revealed that the probes were inserted into neuronal pathways in the monkey's motor cortex, a brain region where voluntary movement originates as electrical impulses, during the study.
Dr. Schwatz said that the software programmed with a mathematic algorithm evaluated the neurons' collective activity, and then sent it to the arm, he added.
As a result, he added, the arm carried out the actions the monkey intended to perform with its own limb.
He said that the movements were fluid and natural, and that the monkey was found to regard the robotic device as part of its own body.
"In our research, we've demonstrated a higher level of precision, skill and learning," explained Dr. Schwartz.
"The monkey learns by first observing the movement, which activates his brain cells as if he were doing it. It's a lot like sports training, where trainers have athletes first imagine that they are performing the movements they desire," he added.