Tests show monkeys move computer cursor by thought


Scientists in the US have shown that thought alone can move a cursor across a computer screen. The system being tested in monkeys is suited to human use and could help paralysed individuals to regain control over their movement and environment, the researchers believe.

"We substituted thought control for hand control," stated Prof John Donoghue, chairman of the department of neuroscience at Brown University in Rhode Island, where the research was done. "A monkey's brain, not its hand, moved the cursor" with a minimum of training, something which had not been done before, he added.

The work is published this morning in the journal, Nature. It involved the use of tiny brain implants similar to those already used in treating some Parkinson's disease patients, according to lead author, graduate student Mr Mijail Serruya.

"It shows enough promise that we think it could ultimately be hooked up via a computer to a paralysed patient to restore that individual's interaction with the environment," he said.

The system only needs to record brain activity in a handful of brain cells, between seven and 30. The signal is then processed using mathematical formulas or "filters", which convert brain activity into cursor movement.

Three Rhesus monkeys trained to use a computer mouse received brain implants. The brain signals relating to hand movements were recorded and used to create the filters, which could "reliably reconstruct the hand trajectory from neural activity obtained in subsequent trials", the researchers wrote.