MIT Scientists Learn How to Control Muscles with Light

A new study suggests optogenetics can drive muscle contraction with greater control and less fatigue than electrical stimulation.

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Guillermo Herrara-Arcos looks at light shining from an optical neurostimulator. (Credit: Steph Stevens).

For people with paralysis or amputation, neuroprosthetic systems that artificially stimulate muscle contraction with electrical current can help them regain limb function. However, despite many years of research, this type of prosthesis is not widely used because it leads to rapid muscle fatigue and poor control. MIT researchers have developed a new approach that they hope could someday offer better muscle control with less fatigue. Instead of using electricity to stimulate muscles, they used light. In a study in mice, the researchers showed that this optogenetic technique offers more precise muscle control, along with a dramatic decrease in fatigue.

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