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Researchers at Pittsburgh Medical Center recently developed a robotic arm that can be controlled through brainwaves alone. Placing an electrode on the surface of a patient's brain, the researchers worked with the patient as he 'taught' the arm how to respond to his thoughts. He then used the arm to touch his girlfriend's hand for the first time in seven years ? something he couldn't do with his natural arms since a motor accident left him a quadriplegic.
Pittsburgh might be Steel City, but it has no monopoly on thought-controlled metal limbs. A team led by researchers at Brown University recently built a robotic arm that allowed a quadriplegic woman to serve herself coffee for the first time in 15 years. Researchers at the Long Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of California (Irvine) have developed thought-controlled mechanical leg braces. Toronto-based Bionik Laboratories intends to take thought-controlled prosthetics to the market at a bargain price.
Brain-machine interfaces aren't only revolutionizing prosthetics. They're also opening new vistas into the treatment of psychotic disorders and addiction.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been used as a treatment of movement disorders for over 20 years. This involves the placement of a 'brain pacemaker' into the patient, a device that emits electrical impulses to the areas of the brain corresponding to the disorder. This procedure is now showing promise as a treatment of various psychiatric disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome and depression. Some researchers also believe that DBS shows promise as a treatment of addiction.
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