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Locust study promises new insights into limb control

New research at the University of Leicester into how the brain controls the movements of limbs could prompt major advances in understanding the human brain and the development of prosthetic limbs.

Dr Tom Matheson, a Reader in Neurobiology, and Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, a Professor of Bioengineering, have joined their areas of expertise together to begin this innovative research. They were recently awarded over £800,000 from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to carry out the analysis of the sensory-motor control of limb movements.

The study will involve recording, analysing and manipulating the activity of individual nerve cells in locusts whilst they make aimed limb movements. This research will help to uncover the general principles of organisation that underpin all limb movements. At the same time the research will develop new methods that can be applied to the analysis of human brain signals.

Accidents and medical disorders that impair or prevent controlled limb movements have profound effects on the quality of life of the patients affected. Through this study, Dr Matheson and Professor Quian Quiroga seek to understand how the brain controls limb movements so that it is possible to better understand what goes wrong in disease processes, and to develop better medical interventions such as prosthetic limbs that are controlled by the activity of the patient’s brain.

Dr Matheson commented:

“We are very excited to have been given the opportunity by the BBSRC to set up and develop these new techniques. It is a great opportunity to combine the two areas of expertise of our labs in Biology and Engineering to address some very difficult but very interesting questions.”

With this research, Professor Quian Quiroga builds on his previous work of isolating the activity of single nerve cells from an overall response.

Professor Quian Quiroga commented:

“This grant from the BBSRC gives us the unique opportunity to study the activity of large population of neurons in a system that has been very well studied by my colleague, Dr Tom Matheson. On the one hand, it will give us the chance to further develop methodologies to study large neural populations, and on the other hand, our research will likely contribute to our knowledge of aimed movements in a system that is relatively simple compared to other animals and humans. This knowledge may contribute to the development of neural prostheses to be used by paralyzed patients, which is clearly an area of major significance.”

Peter Thorley | alfa
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