Neuroscientists have advanced brain- machine interface (BMI) technology to the point where severely handicapped people who cannot contract even one leg or arm muscle can now independently compose and send e-mails and operate a TV in their homes. They are using only their thoughts to execute these actions.

Cutting-edge research on BMI is being conducted at a number of institutions. At the University of Pittsburgh, scientists recently succeeded in developing technology that allows a rhesus monkey to mentally control a robotic arm to feed fruit. The robotic arm's fast and smooth movements were triggered by electrical signals generated in the monkey's brain when the animal thought about an action. The Pittsburgh researchers believe that imparting skill and dexterity to these devices will help amputees and paralyzed patients perform everyday tasks.

In another study, a Washington University School of Medicine team generated new information about a long-held theory that one side of the brain controls arm and leg movements on the opposite side of the body. Recording the brain activity of six epilepsy patients, scientists found that if the left brain hemisphere is damaged, the right brain still had electrical signals to trigger right-sided arm and leg movement. The findings could be useful in rehabilitating stroke and brain injury patients.

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