By Sky News
A device implanted in the brains of two paralyzed monkeys has helped them walk – a breakthrough that could help humans with spinal cord injuries in the future.
The pill-sized microchip decoded nerve activity and wirelessly transmitted signals that stimulated leg muscles and helped the rhesus macaques show “nearly normal locomotion”.
It is believed to be the first time a neural prosthetic device has been used to restore walking movement to non-human primates’ legs.
The two monkeys had no movement in one leg due to partial spinal cord injuries, from which they generally recover after about a month.
But the pair were tested while they were still paralyzed and the device recorded signals from the motor cortex – the area of the brain responsible for voluntary movement.
The chip gathered signals which were transmitted to a computer program to recognize patterns associated with leg movement.
The signals were decoded and the computer sent them to an electrical stimulator implanted in the lumbar spine, below the injury area.
Intact spinal nerves that controlled muscle contractions necessary for walking were then activated.
Scientists from Brown University in the US said the monkeys were able to spontaneously move their non-functional leg while supported on a treadmill.
One animal regained some use of its paralyzed leg within the first week after injury, while the other achieved the same level of mobility in a fortnight.
Experts hope the research will help in the development of similar hi-tech solutions for people with spinal cord injuries but caution the device could not yet be tested on humans.