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Caltech research making thought-controlled prosthetics a reality

Science has provided us with a lot of stuff. From computer gadgets to medicine, there is no doubt that our world would be very different without these advancements. But there is still one advancement some of our St. Louis area readers are still waiting for and it's something that will help them fully recover from their spinal cord injury.

Sure, there are wheelchairs that help with mobility and computers that can give a person back their voice if the damage is that severe, but science has yet to develop a cure for a spinal cord injury. Depending on the severity of the injury, a person may be left partially or completely disabled, requiring extensive medical treatments and potentially even life-long care. They may even need disability benefits and legal help acquiring such assistance.

Even though a cure for spinal cord injuries may be a long ways off, new research out of the California Institute of Technology, or Caltech for short, may be able to give people back their sense of touch with the help of neural implants and specially designed prosthetics.

Only attempted on a handful of individuals at this time, the new implants use the neural impulses in a patient's brain to send a signal to the prosthetic device, allowing the device to move using a person's thoughts. The devices are then able to transmit a signal back to the patient that stimulates the brain and allows the patient to feel what the device touched.

Although this may seem like science fiction, it could become science reality in a few short years if the Food and Drug Administration is able to come up with federal regulations that would ensure the devices' safety. Some believe that approval is on the horizon considering the fact that the agency has approved some devices already, including a robotic arm back in May that can be controlled through brain impulses.

For now though, people with spinal cord and other disabling injuries will have to wait and see if these new devices become more commonplace in the near future.

Source: Nature, "US regulators move on thought-controlled prosthetics," Sara Reardon, Nov. 26, 2014

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