Brain-controlled prosthetic devices hold potential to substantially improve quality of life for people with ALS or spinal cord injury. However, advances in technology are constrained by our limited understanding of the complex neuronal signals that control human movement. An exciting development was published in the June 23 eLife by a team of researchers led by Jaimie Henderson and Krishna Shenoy of Stanford University. Using multi-electrode arrays implanted into the motor cortex of two ALS patients, the researchers were able to record neuronal activity from close to 100 neurons, while simultaneously recording subtle hand movements with sensitive sensors. Intriguingly, the team discovered that voluntary movement in humans is controlled by similar, coordinated dynamic neuronal activity as they had previously identified in non-human primate studies. These results can help researchers develop improved algorithms for translating neural activity into electric signals that can move robotic arms or computer cursors, as recently demonstrated by Shenoy’s team (see press release).
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Pandarinath C, Gilja V, Blabe CH, Nuyujukian P, Sarma AA, Sorice BL, Eskandar EN, Hochberg LR, Henderson JM, Shenoy KV. Neural population dynamics in human motor cortex during movements in people with ALS. Elife. 2015 Jun 23;4. [Pubmed].
Kao JC, Nuyujukian P, Ryu SI, Churchland MM, Cunningham JP, Shenoy KV. Single-trial dynamics of motor cortex and their applications to brain-machine interfaces. Nat Commun. 2015 Jul 29;6:7759. [Pubmed].