A US company has announced plans to test a device that would allow paralyzed people to control a computer directly with their brain.

Foxborough, Boston-based Cyberkinetics aims to file a research request with the US Food and Drug Administration by the end of this year.

The first trial would involve five paralyzed people who can’t use their hands, says Timothy Surgenor, Cyberkinetics’ president and chief executive.

Neural interfaces that translate neuron activity have demonstrated tremendous promise for allowing paralyzed people to do such things as type, operate wheelchairs and operate robotic prosthetics.

The interfaces could also restore movement to existing limbs by bypassing damaged spinal cord areas that prevent brain signals from reaching muscles.

While linking the brain directly with machines was once considered science fiction, advances over the past few years have made it increasingly viable.

Last month, for example, researchers at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina reported that monkeys manipulated a robotic arm with their mind using a neural interface.

Cyberkinetics aims to test its Braingate device, which it has already tested in animals.

Four millimeters square, the device contains a 100-microelectrode array that Cyberkinetics gained access to through its 2002 merger with Bionic Technologies of Salt Lake City.

The array is placed into a motor activity area of the brain using a spring-loaded inserter through a small hole in the skull. A connector extends from a user’s skull and is attached to a computer cable.

The system detects the firing of neurons and translates this into some action.

Surgenor says that Cyberkinetics will file an FDA Investigational Device Exemption by the end of the year and, with approval, will begin trials early next year and complete them by its end.

The company will report advances and clinical trial plans for Braingate on Sunday in New Orleans at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

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