"There is no limit now to decoding human motion," he said. "It gets more complex when you work on parts like the hand, but I think that once you can tap into desired motion in the brain, then how that motion is effected has a wide range of possibilities."
It took weeks of training for Scheuermann to master control of the hand, but she was able to move it after just two days, and over time she completed tasks - such as picking up objects, orientating them, and moving them to a target position - with a 91.6 per cent success rate. Her speed increased with practice.
The researchers plan to incorporate wireless technology to remove the need for a wired connection between the patient's head and the prosthesis.
They also believe a sensory loop could be added that gives feedback to the brain, allowing the user to tell the difference between hot and cold, or smooth and rough surfaces.
Grégoire Courtine, at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, hailed the project. "This bio-inspired brain-machine interface is a remarkable technological and biomedical achievement.
"Though plenty of challenges lie ahead, these sorts of systems are rapidly approaching the point of clinical fruition," Courtine, who was not involved in the study, said in a comment piece in The Lancet linked to the study.
Although using technology to restore movement, sight or hearing in the disabled would for many seem uncontroversial, some disability rights groups and ethicists are wary.
They argue that restoring hearing, for instance, could fuel a prejudice that a deaf life is less rich, or less well lived.
Andy Miah, a professor at the University of the West of Scotland who has written extensively about human enhancement in the context of the Paralympics, says it is far from straightforward.
"There was a case of a deaf lesbian couple who sought to use in vitro fertilisation to select for deafness," he said.
"They argued that absence of hearing is precisely not an impairment, but allows access to a rich community."
The ethics become more complex with the prospect of using these technologies to enhance the able-bodied.
"It's quite likely that therapy is the back door to enhancement in these kinds of technological interventions," says Miah. "People will question whether this is desirable, but we already live in a society that tolerates such modifications.
"Laser eye surgery interventions have grown astronomically over the last decade and nobody complains that it is making people superhuman."
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