Portuguese neuroscientist Rui Costa from the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown and principal investigator of the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia (IGC), in Portugal, and a team of neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have demonstrated that the brain is more flexible and trainable than previously thought.
Their research, published in the March issue of the online journal Nature, opens the door to the development of thought-controlled prosthetic devices that could restore mobility to people with motor skills impairments.
Previous studies have failed to rule out the role of physical movement when learning to use a prosthetic device. Researchers hope these findings will lead to a new generation of prosthetic devices that feel natural. The discovery could also help dementia research by allowing scientists to develop ways to enable patients to re-learn old skills.
Rui Costa is the head researcher of the study which includes Jose Carmena, UC Beckeley associate professor of electrical engineering, cognitive science and neuroscience, Aaron Koralek, a UC Berkeley graduate student, and Xin Jin, a post-doctoral student.
Co-author John Long, former UC Berkeley graduate student at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and member of the Carmena lab, also collaborated in this study.
The National Science Foundation, Multiscale Systems Research Center, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Marie Curie International, and the European Research Council helped support the study.
Rui Costa , 40, holds a doctoral degree in Veterinary Medicine from the Technical University of Lisbon. He was a guest researcher at the Department of Animal Environment and Health in the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Skara. He completed a PhD in Biomedical Sciences at the GABBA Doctoral Program University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and did post-doctoral studies at post-doctoral research at Duke University and the Abel Salazar Biomedical Institute, University of Porto, Portugal.
He has received several prizes, including the Young Investigator Award of the American National Foundation for Neurofibromatosis, in 2001, and was a finalist of the Donald B. Lindsey Prize of the American Neuroscience Association, in 2003. In 2009, he returned to Portugal, where he is Principal Investigator of the Champalimaud Foundation Neuroscience Programme at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia. In 2009 he was awarded a Marie Curie Re-Integration Grant and the prestigious1.6 million euro European Research Council Starting Grant.
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