Researchers from the University of Oxford have demonstrated a link between activities in nerve clusters and the force generated in a physical action which will pave the way for development of better devices for paralysed patients.
Coordinated patterns of electrical activity in the basal ganglia, the clusters of nerve cells in the brain, predicted the amount of force generated in the voluntary physical actions which the nerve cells control such as making a fist or raising a leg.
While examining patients, receiving deep brain stimulation which is a surgical procedure to treat some neurological symptoms of Parkinson's disease, the researchers identified a link between the electrical fields generated in the nerve clusters of the basal ganglia and the gripping force the patient produced.
The findings can throw light on neurological ailments such as Parkinson’s disease.
Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit at the University of Oxford member Professor Peter Brown said: “Our results suggest how the basal ganglia help to direct parts of the brain controlling muscle responses, and how this might go wrong in Parkinson’s disease.
“The accuracy with which force could be predicted raises the possibility of producing high-performance control signals for brain-controlled devices, offering the fine-tuning that would be necessary for more delicate and complex tasks like picking up objects.
“The next step will be to test how well the features that we have identified can control brain-machine-interfaces in practice, particularly in chronically paralysed patients.
"We will also need to test whether additional recordings from other brain sites are needed to adequately control assistive devices.”
While development has already been made to create devices to assist paralysed patients with movement, the new research will further aid in developing devices that regulate the force or speed of the movements.
Image: Brain activity predicts force of physical actions. Photo: © University of Oxford.