Brown scientists turn thoughts into action

CLINICAL STUDY PARTICIPANT Cathy drinks coffee from a thermos, using her thoughts to control a robotic arm, the first time in 15 years since she suffered a brain stem stroke she had been able to do so.
Posted 5/21/12

PROVIDENCE – A research team of Brown University scientists involved in BrainGate2 had their ground-breaking clinical trial research published in the May 17 issue of Nature, detailing how two people who were unable to move their limbs because of brain stem strokes were enabled to guide a robot arm to reach and grasp objects, using only their brain activity.

The research, entitled “Reach and grasp by people with tetraplegia using neurally controlled robotic arm,” included a trial of a subject using her thoughts to steer a robotic arm to grasp a thermos of coffee and lift it to her lips, then drink it, at which point she smiled.

The subject, Cathy, had suffered a brain stem stroke 15 years ago, and since then has been unable to move her legs or arms, or speak. Using an implanted device that recorded neural signals from her motor cortex, she was able to use her own thoughts to control a robotic arm.

“For the first time in 15 years, Cathy was able to pick up a thermos and drink from it,” Leigh Hochberg, a neuroengineer at Brown and a co-author of the paper, told the Providence Business News. “The smile on her face was a remarkable and wonderful thing to see.”

The work is part of the BrainGate2 clinical trial, led by John Donoghue, director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science. His team has previously reported a trial in which two participants were able to move a cursor on a computer screen with their thoughts.

To learn more about the research being done by BrainGate2, go to

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