A Brain-Machine Interface Enables Bimanual Arm Movements in Monkeys

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Science Translational Medicine  06 Nov 2013:
Vol. 5, Issue 210, pp. 210ra154
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3006159

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Bimanual Control: The Arms Have It

Millions of people worldwide suffer from sensory and motor deficits caused by spinal cord lesions. Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) are artificial systems that hold promise for restoring mobility and sensation to such patients by connecting intact brain regions to assistive devices. Previous studies have developed BMIs that control single prosthetic arms, but have not offered users the ability to coordinate two artificial arms at the same time. Ifft et al. now describe a BMI that uses cortical activity to control two arms simultaneously in monkeys. For this bimanual BMI control, nearly 500 neurons were recorded concurrently from various cortical areas in each of two monkeys. A custom decoding algorithm transformed this large-scale activity into independent control of two avatar arms that performed reaching movements in virtual reality. Two monkeys perfected bimanual operations within 15 days of training. Eventually, they were able to move the avatar arms without moving their own arms. A detailed analysis revealed a widespread cortical plasticity underlying this learning. These findings should help in the design of more sophisticated BMIs capable of enabling bimanual motor control in human patients.