Last week, researchers at Caltech, Keck Medicine of USC, and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center announced that 34-year old Eric Sorto was able to drink a sip of beer for the first time in 12 years. Why is this big news? Because Sorto is a tetraplegic, and he was able to drink that beer by using only his thoughts and a robotic arm.
Basically, in doing so, he demonstrated the ability to control the precise activity of single neurons in his brain with specific thoughts. The unique part of this study is that he was able to perform the task with one thought, instead of a series of thoughts (move robotic arm, grasp can of beer, etc.)
And how did this amazing feat happen? Once again, thanks to preliminary work in animals.
The researchers published a paper last week in Science magazine detailing how the work moved from non-human primates to humans. The animal foundations for this research go back as far as 1988 with research with macaques.
This was such a big breakthrough that The Guardian, a UK newspaper, dedicated an editorial to the study, and the importance of the primate research that led to it.
Once again, animal research of yesterday leads to breakthroughs of today. Thanks animal research!