Scientists have successfully used computer chips to link two monkeys together, allowing one monkey's brain to control the other's body movement. Researchers say they hope their work - partly inspired by Hollywood blockbuster Avatar - will lead to the development of implants for patients who have nerve or spinal cord paralysis.
Harvard neurosurgeon Ziv Williams, who co-authored the study published in the journal Nature Communications, says the paper aimed to find possible ways to treat people with cervical spinal cord injuries and are quadriplegic or have had brain stem strokes.
"What we basically did was create a functional cortical to spinal bypass where we're able to record neural signals in the brain, extract information about what the monkey is intending on doing and then basically stimulating the spinal cord to produce movements in their paralysed limb to those same intended target locations," Dr Williams said.
"For example, if the monkey is intending on moving upwards, we would select specific electrode contacts in the spinal cord to stimulate a movement that reaches that exact same target location. "In some cases actually the first monkey just needed to think about what they wanted to do and then the other monkey would make the movement."
Dr Williams said the "master monkey" was implanted with a microchip in the area of their brain responsible for thinking about movement and the neurons were recorded, based on the patterns of activity.
"We could figure out what the monkey was intending on moving or intending on doing - for example you know, moving up, down, left, right - and then at the same time we implanted a microchip in the spinal cord of the avatar and then we stimulated those areas based on what the other monkey was thinking," he said.
"So the hook-up was basically a computational link where we basically matched everything that the monkey, that the master, was thinking about and then matched that with movements produced in the avatar.