It may sound like a scene from a science-fiction movie, but scientists have found a way to insert information into monkeys’ brains using electrical currents. According to the Daily Mail, the electricity was injected into the monkeys’ premotor cortex so that researchers could deliver instructions to the animals and direct their movements. The study is still in the preliminary stages right now, but researchers hope that it could one day help people who have limited brain function because of injury or a medical condition.
“What we are showing here is that you don’t have to be in a sensory-receiving area in order for the subject to have an experience that they can identify,” said study lead author Marc H. Schieber, a physician and researcher at the University of Rochester.
During the study, two rhesus monkeys were given four objects and are stimulated with electricity when a colored light turns on. When the lights came on the monkeys also started manipulating the object in a particular way. The researchers then turned the lights off and the monkeys exhibited the same behavior when they were stimulated by the electric current. They stimulated different parts of the brain for each of the lights and the monkeys’ movements.
“The monkeys can’t tell us what they are feeling, so training them to associate the microstimulation with a movement is the way we are able to confirm that they have felt an urge or had some kind of experience,” Schieber said.
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According to the authors of the study, most of the research in this field has focused on the sensory part of the brain, but that limits where you can send the information.
But the team believes their work shows that the stimulated area can be expanded to other parts of the brain. This is especially important when working with people who have lost some of their brain’s capability because of an accident or a medical condition. So, if this technique can work on humans, scientists would technically be able to go around the damaged areas of the brain and deliver information to other parts.
Besides the research’s potential medical benefit, researchers believe that the study could offer a breakthrough for the development of neuro-computer interfaces and neuroprosthetics.
This isn’t the first time this year that neurological research involving monkeys has yielded a scientific breakthrough. According to the New Scientist, in June, researchers from the California Institute of Technology were able to reassemble photos of human beings from the brain signals of macaque monkeys. This has provided key information that could help unlock the secret of facial recognition, the authors of the study said.