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Brain chip sought to drive paralyzed limbs

SAN DIEGO, July 25 (UPI) -- Three U.S. universities were given grants to study sensorimotor neural engineering that would allow the brain to communicate with prosthetic or paralyzed limbs.

San Diego State University is one of the schools sharing an $18.5 million National Science Foundation grant to research chips that could be implanted in the brain to send signals to a prosthetic or paralyzed limb, giving it the full dexterity of an undamaged hand or leg, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Sunday.

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Sensors in the limbs would return signals to the brain, sending sensations of heat and cold or recognizing changes in texture, researchers said.

The five-year grant will be shared between SDSU, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Washington.

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"NSF always pursues research at the leading edge," foundation spokesman Josh Chamot said. "We're taking proposals that look forward, that could lead to entirely new concepts and technology, entirely new fields. But the fact is that the people who built up this team already have research that shows they can accomplish these goals."

Scientists say the research could lead to commercial products to help wounded veterans, people with spinal cord injuries and those with neurological disorders.

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"It's like the Six Million Dollar Man, the bionic man," said Kee Moon, a mechanical engineering professor who will lead SDSU's team.

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"We hope, at the end of 10 years, to be able to implant a device on the brain to drive a prosthetic device in a way that the information goes both ways -- from the brain to the device and the device to the brain," he said.

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