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Scientists: Paralysed Hands Could Move Again
Scientists claim they are on the verge of giving movement back to people paralysed by spinal injuries.
In experiments on monkeys at the University of Newcastle, researchers have successfully routed brain signals through a computer and into the spinal cord, bypassing paralysis and allowing them to move their hands.
It is claimed the research, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, could see stroke victims and those with spinal cord injuries regain some movement within the next five years.
Dr Andrew Jackson said his techniques were already being used separately in patients but this was the first time they had been brought together.
"When someone has a damaged motor cortex or spinal cord the problem is that the signal from the brain to the muscles isn't getting through," he explained.
"What we have done here is restore that connection to allow the signal telling the hand to move to reach the spinal cord."
Dr Jackson said macaque monkeys were trained to grasp and pull a spring-loaded handle and were then temporarily paralysed using a drug that wore off after about two hours.
When their brain signals were fed into their nervous system through a computer they gained enough control to move their paralysed arms and pull the handle.
The controversial experiments, being publicised as a result of an agreement the university signed last week with more than 70 UK organisations to be more open about animal research, have been criticised by anti-vivisectionists.
Dr Jarrod Bailey, from the British Union of Vivisection, claimed the monkeys would have suffered without any guarantee of a benefit for humans.
"We know from the past, in many areas of disease research, that a promising result in animals - including monkeys - rarely translates to a success in humans," he said.
But Tom Shaw, who was paralysed from the neck down in an accident three years ago and is now a trustee for spinal injury charity Aspire, has welcomed the research.
He said: "For people with as limited mobility as myself even small gains in function can really improve independence and the range of things I'm able to do for myself."