Thursday, September 1, 2011

Brain Implants In Wheelchair Users?

According to this article in CNN researchers are testing a robotic arm which will be controlled ONLY by thought. This is exciting news for many wheelchair users. The downside? They are going to do it by implanting electrdes in the BRAIN!

Starting next month, researchers at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh will begin testing on spinal cord injury patients whose brains have been implanted with a tiny (2mm by 2mm) electrode array.


While I am in favor of medical research which will help people with disabilities, I do not support medical research which involves brain surgery. Implanting anything in the brain opens up the subject to a variety of problems including infection. Infection can not only be deadly, it can cause further disabilities. And if the research is successful then what? People will be offered this technology only after having electrodes implanted in the brain? Sorry, I think that this goes much too far.

Of course, I am aware that many people with disabilities urgently need technology such. There are people with locked in syndrome that have no mobility at all and being able to control robots via thought would be HUGE. But there must be other ways of reading the brains intent without sticking an electrode in there. For example at University of Maryland, another university in the USA scientist are using brain cap technology to do basically the same thing, that is control a robot via thought. However, the brain cap goes on top of the head. Nothing is implanted. No surgery required. This is cool. This type of research is not only VERY exciting, it is much more ethical in my opinion.

Scientists always use the "end" to justify the "means" so long as it leads to another publication. We will certainly hear lots of stories about how this technology can help so many people. But who will take responsibility when it goes wrong?

Would you agree to have a research scientist implant an electrode inside of your head?