Spine injury treatment inspired by monkey mind control

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

nervous system
Our spine is the central command for our nervous system, which lets us move our limbs and feel sensations like pain.

In the movie Avatar, main character Jake Sully is able to control the body of a native creature by linking their brains together. Now, researchers inspired by the film have created a way for one monkey to control another’s mind! These results could be very helpful in treating individuals who are paralyzed (unable to move parts of their body) from spinal cord injuries (SCIs).

Our spinal cord is a bundle of nerves, which connect the brain to the rest of the body. This connection allows the ol’ noggin to send commands to different limbs and control our movements. When someone suffers an SCI, the nerves are damaged and the brain signals never reach their final destination, leaving a person unable to control their own bodies. The researchers figured there had to be some way to get around the damaged nerves altogether, controlling the muscles with a brain-powered machine. That would give SCI victims a chance to command their bodies again!

So, they designed an experiment using electrodes, which are objects that electricity can flow through to a non-metallic surface. They used these electrodes to connect a “master monkey” to the spinal cord of an “avatar monkey”, who couldn’t control his own body. The motionless primate also had his hand on a joystick that controlled a mouse on the screen. They wanted to see if the master monkey could control the avatar monkey’s muscles, and make it move the mouse cursor to a target on the computer screen. Guess what? It worked!

While the experiment was a success, researchers say there’s still a ton of work to do before they create a treatment for spinal cord injuries. However, this is a promising start.

Featured image courtesy of DC Comics.