Robo-Monkey's Reward

When animals can control a mechanical arm just by thinking, could human paraplegics be far behind?

When Christopher Reeve declares that he intends to walk again, the paralyzed actor is assuming that researchers will someday learn how to repair spinal-cord injuries like his. But an announcement last week in the new online journal Public Library of Science suggests that help might come from another direction. For the first time, doctors have trained primates to operate a mechanical device--a robotic arm, specifically--by brainpower alone.

Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University, achieved this remarkable feat by implanting microelectrodes into the brains of two rhesus monkeys, targeting the areas where nerve cells fire as the brain readies the...

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