Generally if you hear a story about a monkey’s paw, it usually involves a couple of wishes and a corpse that no one is left alive to re-bury. Luckily, this story has less to do with twists of fate and more to do with robo-miracles.
Yukio Nishimura, associate professor at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan, alongside Eberhard Fetz and Steve Perlmuters, both professors at the University of Washington, worked to create an artificial neuron connection that bridges a spinal cord lesion in a monkey. The lesion left the monkey without the use of one of its paws, and the circuit allows the neural connection to continue from the brain to paw, turning into electrical energy and back once it crosses the small device. The researchers were able to restore the paw-to-spine connection as well, strengthening it. Their findings were published recently in the online journal Frontiers in Neural Circuits.
Let’s make this clear: they put something into a monkey that reversed its paralysis. That’s pretty damned amazing, any day of the week. (It kind of reminds me of that dog with the regenerated spinal cells, only this neuron chip probably wouldn’t need to be specifically tailored to the being it’s going into.) Time will tell if this kind of technology works inside of humans, but the researchers are optimistic it could do a lot of good for people with spinal cord injuries, or those who have experienced strokes. There’s bound to be a limit to its power, but hopefully that limit will be tested. Here’s Nishimura:
This study was different from what other research groups have done up to now. We didn’t use any prosthetic limbs like robotic arms to replace the original arm. What’s new is that we have been able to use this artificial neuronal connection bypassing the lesion site to restore volitional control of the subject’s own paretic arm. I think that for lesions of the corticospinal pathway this might even have a better chance of becoming a real prosthetic treatment rather than the sort of robotic devices that have been developed recently.