Scientists may have come one step closer to restoring the sense of touch to people who are paralyzed or have lost limbs.
New research from the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering, published in the journal Nature, shows how monkeys can use their brain waves to move a virtual hand and feel the texture of virtual objects.
"This is basically one of the holy grails of this field," study researcher Miguel Nicolelis, a neurobiology professor and co-director of the Duke Center for Neuroengineering, told Bloomberg. "No other study has provided an artificial sensory channel directly to the brain of animals. This is really needed to restore in patients that have a spinal cord injury not only their mobility, but their sense of touch."
Researchers implanted electrodes into two monkeys' brains, in the areas that are responsible for movement and touch.
Then, the monkeys used their electrical brain activity to move the hands of a virtual avatar to touch virtual objects. All of the objects LOOKED the same, but they all had different textures that could only be detected by feeling them with the virtual hands, researchers said.
The discovery provides hope that one day, quadriplegic patients may be able to feel textures and "experience the nuances of the terrain on which they stroll with the help of a wearable robotic exoskeleton," Nicolelis said in a statement.
Back in 2000, Nicolelis published a study in Nature showing that thoughts could be powerful enough to make a robotic arm move, CNN reported. Similarly to the new research, researchers also implanted electrodes into monkeys' brains.