Nov 212010
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Advance Helps People Regulate Their Own Brain Response, With Therapeutic Implications

Using a new brain-computer training approach, 14 volunteers learned in only six minutes how to move a screen cursor with their thoughts. Near-instant feedback helped the people quickly master some of their own brain responses.

The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held in San Diego.

Researchers have developed a speedier system that allows people to control a cursor with thought alone. Studies show that when people and animals are given feedback about their brain signals, they can gain some control over those signals. It’s now possible to acquire that feedback faster than ever before — in “real time” — using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which registers blood flow in active brain regions.

“For most of us, most of the time, the ongoing activity of the brain is hidden and not under voluntary control,” said lead author Anna Rose Childress, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “Brain feedback studies are changing this long-standing, one-way relationship.”

Thought-only cursor control may provide more options for people with “locked-in” syndromes — in which a person is aware but unable to communicate — and individuals with brain injuries. Previous trials have also shown that people can learn to control pain using real-time fMRI, and researchers believe this same technique may be applied to other conditions. They theorize that if the structures that underlie these diseases can be controlled, the disease itself can be altered.

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