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New brain activity research could help develop better devices for paralysed patients

Researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK have discovered a link between the activity in nerve clusters in the brain and the amount of force generated in a physical action.

The findings could open the way for the development of better devices for paralysed patients.

The researchers have traced the activity while working with patients who were receiving deep brain stimulation, a surgical procedure for treating neurological symptoms of Parkinson's disease such as tremors or rigidity.

During the procedure, the researchers detected a link between the electrical fields generated in the nerve clusters of the basal ganglia and the gripping force the patient produced.

According to the researchers, the findings are expected to help in solving the unexplained gaps in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

The new research may help to develop devices, which regulate the force or speed of the movements.

University of Oxford Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics unit professor Peter Brown said: “Tremendous strides are being made in producing brain-machine-interfaces, which have enormous medical treatment and rehabilitation potential.

“Our results suggest how the basal ganglia help to direct parts of the brain controlling muscle responses, and how this might go wrong in Parkinson’s disease.

“The accuracy with which force could be predicted raises the possibility of producing high-performance control signals for brain-controlled devices, offering the fine-tuning that would be necessary for more delicate and complex tasks like picking up objects.”


Image: Brains activity predicts the force of physical action. Photo: courtesy of University of Oxford.