American scientists have come a step closer to discovering a way of ‘curing’ paralysed limbs by creating technology that delivers direct electronic ‘messages’ from the brain to the affected part of the body.
Researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine managed to send electric signals from the brain to the targeted limb to move, bypassing the damaged spinal cord.
“We are eavesdropping on the natural electrical signals from the brain that tell the arm and hand how to move, and sending those signals directly to the muscles,” said Lee. E. Miller, lead author of the study.
The researchers focused on a ‘paralysed’ hand of a monkey, whose electrical brain and muscle signals were monitored throughout the process.
The lab monkey was given a local anesthetic to block nerve activity at the elbow, causing temporary (and painless) paralysis of the hand. They were also given tiny 'multi-electrode' implants that scientists used to track the electric signals.
When the electrical signals were sent through the body, scientists were able to develop a algorithm (a decoder) that enabled them to record and predict patterns of muscle activity in the monkey – down to the moment the monkey wanted to move a muscle.
Scientists discovered that the monkey’s brain signals were able to control tiny electric currents sent through the body and into its muscles, causing them to contract and therefore allowing the monkey to pick items up using its ‘paralysed’ hand.
Scientists from the study likened this ‘motor learning’, when people relearn the movements that achieve an everyday task.
"The monkey won't use his hand perfectly, but there is a process of motor learning that we think is very similar to the process you go through when you learn to use a new computer mouse or a different tennis racquet. Things are different and you learn to adjust to them," explains Miller.
"We can extract a remarkable amount of information from only 100 neurons, even though there are literally a million neurons involved in making that movement,” Miller said.
“One reason is that these are output neurons that normally send signals to the muscles. Behind these neurons are many others that are making the calculations the brain needs in order to control movement. We are looking at the end result from all those calculations.”
Brain news in the headlines:
A twice-daily skin cancer drug almost doubles the survival times of advanced cancer patients, American scientists have discovered. Researchers from the Jonsson Cancer Center at the <a href="http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/" target="_hplink">University of California</a>, found that advanced melanoma cancer sufferers lived on average of 16 months after receiving the vemurafenib drug. Read the full story here. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/02/23/skin-cancer-drug-zelboraf-doubles-survival-times_n_1295896.html?ref=uk-lifestyle" target="_hplink"><strong>Read the full story here</strong></a>
Scientists have discovered five new genes that cause heart attacks and strokes and hope these findings will enable them to pinpoint when the attacks will strike. The researchers, from <a href="http://www.qmul.ac.uk/" target="_hplink">Queen Mary University</a> of London, identified five generic variants that trigger heart attacks and strokes after investigating blood pressure measurements of 25,000 participants. The aim of the study was to look into the role that genes play in hypertension and high blood pressure. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/18/test-predicts-heart-attack-and-stroke_n_1101174.html" target="_hplink">Read the full story here</a></strong>.
American scientists have discovered a potential new drug that could help fight against Alzheimer's disease. Neuroscientists from the <a href="http://casemed.case.edu/" target="_hplink">Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine</a> discovered that a skin cancer drug called bexarotene appears to reverse cognitive and memory deficits associated with Alzheimer's when tested on lab mice. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/02/09/bexarotene-cancer-drug-prevents-alzheimers_n_1265726.html" target="_hplink"><strong>Read the full story here</strong></a>.
A "personalised" pill for advanced skin cancer that can extend life has been approved for use in the UK. The drug, vemurafenib, only works for patients with a specific variant of the BRAF gene. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/03/14/personalised-skin-cancer-drug-created_n_1344010.html " target="_hplink"><strong>Read the full story here</strong></a>.
The genetic code of the most common form of hereditary breast cancer has been mapped for the first time, offering hope for diagnosis and treatment of the disease in the future. Researchers say they have "fully sequenced" the DNA of two breast cancers caused by a faulty BRCA1 gene, which is responsible for aggressive and highly drug-resistant tumours. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/02/24/genetic-breakthrough-breast-cancer-hope_n_1299330.html" target="_hplink"><strong>Read the full story here</strong></a>.
Scientists from the <a href="http://www.northwestern.edu/" target="_hplink">Northwestern University</a> in Chicago have come one step closer to developing a potential cure for peanut allergies, by creating an immune system tolerant to peanuts. The researchers found that they can switch off potentially deadly peanut allergy attacks by tricking the immune system into tolerating nut proteins, and not seeing them as a threat to the body. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/10/11/peanut-allergies-has-a-cure-been-found_n_1004615.html" target="_hplink">Read the full story here</a></strong>.
A breakthrough lung cancer detection test is set to be trialled on smokers for the first time in Scotland. If successful, cancers could be identified five years earlier than by current detection methods. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/03/23/breakthrough-lung-cancer-detection-test-trialled_n_1374925.html " target="_hplink"><strong>Read the full story here</strong></a>.
Sleepless nights could soon be a thing of the past as scientists discover a key chemical trigger that suppresses sleep and wakes people up. Researchers from <a href="http://www.bu.edu/" target="_hplink">Boston University </a>found that when the body has too little of the calcium kinase enzyme, it causes the brain to nod off to sleep. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/23/insomnia-cure-a-step-closer-after-enzyme-discovery_n_1109969.html" target="_hplink">Read the full story here</a></strong>.
A new treatment for breast cancer has been discovered after scientists found that breast tumours can be killed in minutes - by boiling them. The latest treatment, known as Preferential Radio-Frequency Ablation, uses a targeted electrical current that heats, or 'boils' the tumour to 70 to 90c (160 to 190f). <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/22/boiling-breast-cancer-tumours-kills-them-in-minutes_n_1107632.html" target="_hplink">Read the full story here</a></strong>.
British scientists have developed a revolutionary breast-screening system that uses anti-landmine technology to detect cancer in seconds. The radio-wave scanner is safer, cheaper and less painful than traditional mammogram X-rays, and unlike the current system, can be used on women of all ages. <a href="New Scan Detects Breast Cancer In Seconds Using Anti-Landmine Technology " target="_hplink"><strong>Read the full story here</strong></a>.
Breakthrough research involving a brain transplant of stem cells could offer hope for the treatment of both autism and Parkinson's disease. The study, from <a href="http://www.harvard.edu/" target="_hplink">Harvard University</a>, has already proven successful with mice. Scientists transferred healthy stem cells from mouse embryos into the brains of adult mice who were unable to use leptin, a hormone that tells the body when to stop eating. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/25/stem-cell-hope-autism-parkinsons_n_1112738.html" target="_hplink">Read the full story here</a></strong>.
A stomach implant that can trick the brain into thinking the stomach is full is the latest hi-tech gadget that experts hope will help fight the flab and beat obesity. The <a href="http://www.abiliti.com/" target="_hplink">Abiliti</a>, or 'Gastric Pacemaker', is a credit card-sized implant, inserted using keyhole surgery, which detects when food has been eaten and sends signals to the brain to create the feeling of fullness. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/08/gastric-pacemaker-beat-obesity_n_1082081.html" target="_hplink">Read the full story here</a></strong>.
Scientists from the <a href="http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/" target="_hplink">Imperial College</a> London have discovered a 'fertility switch' that could help treat infertility and miscarriage in the future. The study, published in the <a href="http://www.nature.com/nm/index.html" target="_hplink">Nature Medicine</a> journal, discovered an enzyme in the body that determines infertility and the chances of miscarriage, as it acts like a 'switch'. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/10/17/new-hope-for-women-struggling-to-conceive_n_1015554.html" target="_hplink">Read the full story here</a></strong>.
Eviplera, a new once-daily pill for the treatment of HIV has been made available in 27 countries of the European Union following approval by the <a href="http://www.ema.europa.eu/ema/index.jsp?curl=/pages/home/Home_Page.jsp&jsenabled=true" target="_hplink">European Medicines Agency</a>. The new drug, from <a href="http://www.gilead.com/" target="_hplink">Gilead Sciences</a>, combines three antiretroviral treatments in a single tablet so HIV patients only need to take one tablet a day to treat their condition. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/01/world-aids-day-2011-new-once-daily-pill-available-in-uk_n_1122590.html" target="_hplink">Read the full story here</a></strong>.
Scientists believe that a potent Alzheimer's vaccine jab could be the secret to preventing the disease developing from its early stages. Researchers from<a href="http://gumc.georgetown.edu/" target="_hplink"> Georgetown University Medical Center</a> in Washington found that an antibody for Alzheimer's disease is more likely to trigger inflammation in the brain the later it is given and that it could potentially be prevented, as long as the vaccine is taken during the very early stages of the disease. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/16/potent-alzheimers-vaccine-could-prevent-disease_n_1096670.html" target="_hplink">Read the full story here</a></strong>.