Imagine being told you or your loved one will never be able to walk again, the devastation, the shock …
Well, there may be hope after-all. In a lab at Duke University doctors, engineers, neuroscientists and physiologists from Brazil, Switzerland, Germany and the United States are all actively working on what many might call a miracle, a “prosthetic exoskeleton” that would allow those immobilized by injury or illness to walk again. Their goal is to demonstrate that they could bypass the body’s complex network of nerve endings and supply the sensation of touch right to the brains of monkeys.
Dr Nicolelis, a Brazilian-born physician and neuroscientist, is bringing together brain science and engineering or sensory feedback and brain control devices to be combined in real time and in a useful way. Kip Ludwig, who has funded some of Nicolelis’ work, states, “Before, they’ve always been separate.” He also states that, ideally, the long-term goal would be a prosthetic that would send all the sensory information – touch, position and temperature- to a body part that would add meaning to it."
Nicolelis’ team has “recruited” two female monkeys, from southern Asia, to demonstrate the feasibility of their ideas. The team is sending electrical signals to the monkey’s brain to distinguish between three identical circles with different textures. These sensations will come from coded electrical currents sent to each monkey’s sensory cortex, or outer layer of the brain, by four filaments the width of hair.
Nicolelis explained the brain the motor drive purpose, “The team is starting with simple experiments for Mango and Nectarine, (the monkeys) so that when the experiments move to humans he or she will not only learn quickly how to initiate and repeat movements using thought alone, but the prosthetic should interface so seamlessly with the intelligent human brain that the patient will begin to see the prosthetic as a natural extension of him or herself.... It would be just like a car…only a little tighter.”
Now, when is this determined and industrious goal expected to happen you ask? This wonderful team that Nicolelis has put together, hopes to send a young quadriplegic striding out to midfield to open the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil, suited up in an “prosthetic exoskeleton."
How is that for ambitious?
Pictures and video via Duke University