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Medicine China Science Technology Hardware

Brain Implants Allow Paralyzed Monkeys To Walk (nature.com) 50

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Nature: For more than a decade, neuroscientist Gregoire Courtine has been flying every few months from his lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne to another lab in Beijing, China, where he conducts research on monkeys with the aim of treating spinal-cord injuries. The commute is exhausting -- on occasion he has even flown to Beijing, done experiments, and returned the same night. But it is worth it, says Courtine, because working with monkeys in China is less burdened by regulation than it is in Europe and the United States. And this week, he and his team report the results of experiments in Beijing, in which a wireless brain implant -- that stimulates electrodes in the leg by recreating signals recorded from the brain -- has enabled monkeys with spinal-cord injuries to walk. The treatment is a potential boon for immobile patients: Courtine has already started a trial in Switzerland, using a pared-down version of the technology in two people with spinal-cord injury. The team first mapped how electric signals are sent from the brain to leg muscles in healthy monkeys, walking on a treadmill. They also examined the lower spine, where electric signals from the brain arrive before being transmitted to muscles in the legs. Then they recreated those signals in monkeys with severed spinal cords, focusing on particular key points in the lower part of the spine. Microelectrode arrays implanted in the brain of the paralyzed monkeys picked up and decoded the signals that had earlier been associated with leg movement. Those signals were sent wirelessly to devices that generate electric pulses in the lower spine, which triggered muscles in the monkeys' legs into motion.
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Brain Implants Allow Paralyzed Monkeys To Walk

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  • Cute sciencey talk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LesFerg ( 452838 ) on Wednesday November 09, 2016 @09:30PM (#53252769) Homepage

    ... monkeys with spinal-cord injuries ...

    Meaning: monkeys with spinal-cords we have slashed and butchered

    • All medicine requires testing, likewise personal products. Your blood pressure medicine, cholesterol, and the compound which will likely save your life one day. My sister was a research scientist for a pharma, she performed tests on mice which as you would put it had there brains sliced and butchered in order to test a drug which could save someone's life during a stroke. My grandmother died from a stroke. So I respect your opinion, this being said your only entitled to it you refuse any help in the form of

      • by LesFerg ( 452838 )

        I guess my main problem was with the wording. Saying this guy "fixed" an "injured" monkey is all just a little to sugar coated for my liking. Lets just say when we have prepared a specific test-case, so people who don't think things through so well can be made aware of the actual circumstances.

  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Wednesday November 09, 2016 @09:31PM (#53252777)

    Assuming this can be ported to humans, it's the beginning of something huge.

    Mind-bogglingly huge, in fact. Since it should be usable for arms, hands, and such as well....

    • In other news, we can tap into the visual cortex and use it as a teaching system for machine vision: "Representational Distance Learning for Deep Neural Networks"

      https://arxiv.org/abs/1511.039... [arxiv.org]

      They use a neat little trick: instead of mapping brain states directly to neural network states, they measure the distances between the representations of pairs of objects in the source domain and then transfer the same structure to the target domain. They don't need to be similar architectures. Hence, the pos
    • by Lotana ( 842533 )

      Indeed! This is very exciting!

      Biotechnology is making some huge strides in the last decade. It is an interesting time to be alive.

    • I've had a chance to be involved in the technical setup of the clinical trial [clinicaltrials.gov]. It is truly fascinating to see the system at work. It will be 8 patients in total by mid-2018, so we'll have to wait until then to see if it truly works.

      Restoring walking is a first step because it is also easiest to begin with because walking is largely based on reflexes. These reflex networks are typically preserved after spinal cord injury, but the person is no longer able to activate them voluntarily, thus losing the ability

    • should be, as if humans arent overpopulating enough as is
      it is huge though although i doubt the monkeys have given explicit written permission prior to being implanted ... if regulation is that convenient, why not directly go for the real target i mean
      and pardon my apparent lack of humanity-moralism but i wouldnt mind to see the army of twelve monkeys decimate the human population
      people sell their own kidneys for money
      why not, if they agree to it to feed their family
      in the name of science ?
      • can i ... just mention that i actually mean this, its not a sneer at the chinese or something, im all up for experimenting on humans who agree to it in the name of science
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday November 09, 2016 @09:34PM (#53252787) Journal
    So, what are the options for tinkering with the signal before passing it on?

    Remote control meat puppet? Real-world RealPlayer experience, with all your attempts at motion suffering from unpredictable stuttering and buffering? The possibilities for creative signal processing are endless!
  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Wednesday November 09, 2016 @09:34PM (#53252793)

    ... because working with monkeys in China is less burdened by regulation than it is in Europe and the United States ...

    Probably applies to people too.

    • I think the issue here is *why* the monkeys are paralyzed. I am suspecting these are not unfortunate victims of climbing accidents.
      • I think the issue here is *why* the monkeys are paralyzed. I am suspecting these are not unfortunate victims of climbing accidents.

        Probably more likely to be falling accidents than climbing. :-)

        Although, it's not the fall that kills you, but the abrupt stop at the bottom...

  • Finally... (Score:5, Funny)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Wednesday November 09, 2016 @09:37PM (#53252821) Homepage Journal
    Finally a story about Donald Trump!
  • Poor monkeys (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I hate all animal testing. This kind of work should be done on volunteer humans with nothing to lose.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This kind of work should be done on volunteer humans with nothing to lose.

      It's very hard to recruit volunteers for suicide experiments, and the first time you try something new, it's highly likely to end badly. As in, death may actually be a preferred outcome. The people you can recruit are going to be so sick and so few that any study outcomes will be indistinguishable from anecdotes.

      I realize it's impossible to have a rational discussion about animal research, but every scientist I know makes a serious effort to use the simplest species possible and to minimize its discomfort

      • by La Gris ( 531858 )

        I realize it's impossible to have a rational discussion about animal research, but every scientist I know makes a serious effort to use the simplest species possible and to minimize its discomfort. For example, the Courtine group developed their technology in rodent models before even trying it in primates. Even "chronic" animal studies are brief relative to the human lifespan, and the time that an animal model has to live with the consequences of an experiment gone bad are much shorter than a human volunteer.

        In best case these monkeys will be, or are already euthanasied.
        In worst case they will be maintained a miserable life of a paralyzed animal and recycled for other unrelated testing to some other lab facility for a discount.

        The only rational question is weather there is really no other alternatives.
        Since we discuss this after the facts, I only hope those involved into these experiments and taking care of the lab monkeys had enough ethics to keep the rational question in mind with no definitive answer.

      • by Duhavid ( 677874 )
        Thought experiment:

        Very advanced aliens come to earth. ( they got lost ( not very advanced, eh? ), wrong turn at Aldebaran )
        They are ( i would not argue ethically, but ) advanced beyond us. Lets concentrate on the power/technology aspect of this.
        They have power to dominate us as individuals and as a civilization. And they live about 1000 years, so our ~100 year span is "brief" to them.
        They are biologically similar to us, so the things that go wrong in us also go wrong in them.
        So, they deci
  • I first read, and would be MUCH MORE impressed, "Brain Implants Allow Paralyzed Monkeys To Talk."
    Let me know when that happens. Get back to me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The first thing they would say is "thanks for severing my spinal cord you fucking assholes!"

    • They can't conquer the world if they're paralyzed. It's the non paralyzed monkeys, or rather non-human apes, that you don't want to talk.

  • In case you're interested in the details, or know someone who would be willing to try.

    https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2... [clinicaltrials.gov]

  • Some years ago, Prof. Courtine gave a TED talk [ted.com] when they were still doing the experiments in rats.

    The underlaying mechanism is that the electrical stimulation brings the remaining neural structures in the spinal cord into an active state (i.e. where neurons can transmit electrical information). If you can time the stimulations correctly with the rat's own intention to walk, you facilitate neural plasticity (the ability of neurons to create new connections). This means that after an extensive training, the r

  • That has absolutely no bearing to this research. In fact, I'd probably prefer mine to be wired. I'll carry the wire and not the extra battery. And not worry about missing packets.

    • Haven't you read the short story "Manna", at the end of which the protagonist gets taken to "paradise" (Australia) by beautiful women traveling in transparent, futuristic airplanes?
      Once in paradise you get your spinal cord cut and spliced with a remote-controlled implant, wirelessly connected to a central authority that monitors what you do. Whenever an infraction is detected, they just paralyze your body. It was a long time since I read it, but I think the author was sincere in his belief about this "parad

  • Feh. Monkeys. Try mine-shafts filled with "stimulating" females for re-populating the Earth. No implants, gets 'em right on their feet.
    Mein Führer... I CAN WALK !! [youtube.com]

  • My brother is paraplegic so, to me, this sounds freaking awesome.

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