Hacking the Neural Code Responsible for Movement
SALT LAKE CITY (August 17, 2017) – Researchers in Richard Andersen’s lab at Caltech have succeeded in identifying a small patch of neurons responsible for transmitting movements to most of the body. The findings could have a major impact on the future of paralyzed people or those suffering from neurological diseases impacting their motor movements. The results were published in the online version of the scientific journal Neuron on July 20, 2017. The identification of the specific neurons in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC)—an area connected to many other regions of the brain—is a milestone in understanding how the brain controls movement.
At Caltech, the researchers implanted a four-by-four-millimeter chip composed of 100 electrodes into a specific sector of the PPC—the anterior intraparietal (AIP) area. It was previously believed that the AIP was only responsible for grasping objects, but through the study it was discovered that it was accountable for much more than that. In a Caltech press release, Andersen, James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience, noted, “We found that different neurons in the AIP were indeed selective for different grasps, but we also found activation for shoulder or hand movements, whether imagined or attempted, and for either side of the body.” In fact, Andersen said, “A portion of the cells were even tuned to speech movements. This was truly amazing to find so much information contained in such a small population of neurons.” By exploring the PPC further, scientists hope to decipher the neural codes of movement.
The implanted array was designed by Blackrock Microsystems for high-density neural recordings. Since it has FDA clearance, the array—known as the Utah Array—is used in many current clinical neuroscience studies related to movement. The data samples gathered with the Utah Array in the future could be applied to helping those paralyzed or suffering from neurological diseases. “We are proud that the Utah Array has facilitated so many studies by now aimed at improving the lives of paralyzed patients,” says Prof. Florian Solzbacher, co-founder of Blackrock Microsystems. “The work conducted by Richard Andersen, Tyson Aflalo, and their dedicated teams at Caltech is another major step forward in improving motor functions for those who need it the most,” Solzbacher adds.
About Blackrock Microsystems LLC
Blackrock Microsystems, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, was founded in 2008 and has become the world’s leading provider of technology in the neuroscience, neural engineering, and neural prosthetics space. The company’s technology has been at the core of worldwide innovations in Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMI), implantable bionic technologies and epilepsy diagnostics. Find out more: blackrockneurotech.com
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