May 16 - Groundbreaking new research is allowing quadriplegics to control objects with a robotic arm and the power of their thoughts. A study involving a brain-computer interface developed at Brown University in Rhode Island, shows that people who have lost the use of their limbs can perform basic functions by manipulating the technology with their minds. The findings of the study, conducted in April last year, will be published in the May issue of the science journal ''Nature''. Ben Gruber reports.
In the trial she is known only as patient 'S3'. She's 58-years old and has been paralysed from the neck down since suffering a brainstem stroke 15 years ago. Until this moment she'd been unable to to perform the most basic physical task, let alone serve herself a drink. Patient S3 is using her thoughts to control a robotic arm. An electronic device smaller than a postage stamp has been implanted in the motor cortex of her brain. The device picks up signals from individual neurons, conveying her thoughts to an external computer which then instructs the robot arm to act accordingly. Patient S3 can't speak but can communicate via specially adapted computer software. She says she that when the arm began moving, she couldn't believe her eyes. The researchers say they were delighted to discover that even after more than a decade of paralysis, S3's brain was still able to issue commands with enough proficiency to control the robotic arm. S3's extraordinary achievement comes after years of research by the BrainGate project, a collaboration of researchers whose aim is to give people with paralysis or without limbs a new lease on life. S3 says she hopes one day to have a pair robotic legs she can also control with her thoughts. But for now she says, she's content just to to think about the future while sipping her coffee. Ben Gruber, Reuters.