In a significant scientific achievement, researchers at Nankai University in China claim to have successfully designed a brain implant that allows a monkey to control a robotic arm using only its thoughts. This breakthrough, announced on May 5, is hailed as a promising development that could greatly enhance the quality of life for individuals with disabilities.

The brain-computer interface utilized in the experiment transforms electroencephalogram (EEG) signals from the monkey’s brain into control instructions, enabling it to maneuver the robotic arm and obtain food rewards. It is important to note that the research has not yet undergone peer review, and the claims made by the scientists have not been independently verified. The information regarding the experiment is currently available solely through a statement on the university’s website.

Led by Professor Duan Feng and conducted in collaboration with the General Hospital of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (301 Hospital) and Shanghai Xinwei Medical Technology Co., Ltd, the trial represents a continuation of previous research involving an interventional brain-computer interface experiment on sheep. The statement highlights the successful recognition of EEG signals and other core technologies critical to the experiment’s execution.

An accompanying image shared by the university depicts the surgical procedure performed on the monkey as it receives the brain implant. The sedated animal lies on a table while doctors monitor the operation on a screen.

Describing the interventional brain-computer interface developed by Professor Duan Feng’s team, the researchers explain that an interventional EEG sensor is attached to the monkey’s brain vessels through interventional surgery. This approach enables the collection of intracranial EEG signals without the need for craniotomy, ensuring a non-invasive and secure brain-computer interface.

The interventional EEG sensor passes through the jugular vein, enters the sagittal sinus, and reaches the motor cortex brain area. Following the successful completion of the operation, the collected EEG signals are accurately recognized, granting the animal active control over the robotic arm.

Professor Duan Feng emphasizes that the results obtained from the interventional brain-computer interface experiment in non-human primate brains contribute to the progression of this technology from laboratory research to potential clinical applications. He envisions the fusion of medicine and industry, leading to the creation of a national brand of high-end medical equipment that could revolutionize the field of brain disease medical rehabilitation.

While a comprehensive study is yet to be released by the researchers, other companies have already tested their brain implants in human subjects, providing evidence of their efficacy. For instance, Inner Cosmos unveiled its “digital pill” in January, aimed at treating depression. The device consists of an electrode positioned beneath the scalp and a “prescription pod” attached to the user’s hair to power the implant. By delivering small electrical pulses to the affected brain region associated with depression, known as the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the implant seeks to alleviate symptoms during a daily 15-minute session.

The strides made by Chinese scientists in developing a brain implant that enables mind-controlled robotic arm movements, coupled with ongoing research in the field, hold promising prospects for advancements in medical rehabilitation and brain disease treatment.

By Impact Lab