Patients with spinal cord injury lack the connections between brain and spinal cord circuits that are essential for voluntary movement. Clinical systems that achieve muscle contraction through functional electrical stimulation (FES) have proven to be effective in allowing patients with tetraplegia to regain control of hand movements and to achieve a greater measure of independence in daily activities. In existing clinical systems, the patient uses residual proximal limb movements to trigger pre-programmed stimulation that causes the paralysed muscles to contract, allowing use of one or two basic grasps. Instead, we have developed an FES system in primates that is controlled by recordings made from microelectrodes permanently implanted in the brain. We simulated some of the effects of the paralysis caused by C5 or C6 spinal cord injury by injecting rhesus monkeys with a local anaesthetic to block the median and ulnar nerves at the elbow. Then, using recordings from approximately 100 neurons in the motor cortex, we predicted the intended activity of several of the paralysed muscles, and used these predictions to control the intensity of stimulation of the same muscles. This process essentially bypassed the spinal cord, restoring to the monkeys voluntary control of their paralysed muscles. This achievement is a major advance towards similar restoration of hand function in human patients through brain-controlled FES. We anticipate that in human patients, this neuroprosthesis would allow much more flexible and dexterous use of the hand than is possible with existing FES systems.
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