In a groundbreaking clinical trial, a quadriplegic man moved his fingers and hand with his thoughts thanks to a brain implant developed by researchers at Ohio State University and Battelle.
The paralyzed man, named Ian Burkhart, is the first of five potential participants to trial the new system which has been dubbed Neurobridge. The technology, which was designed for spinal cord injury patients, translates and transmits brain signals to muscles via a chip, effectively re-joining the brain with paralyzed limbs.
“It’s much like a heart bypass, but instead of bypassing blood, we’re actually bypassing electrical signals,” research leader Chad Bouton said in a news-release. “We’re taking those signals from the brain, going around the injury, and actually going directly to the muscles.”
The treatment involves the implant of a tiny chip into the motor cortex of the individual’s brain which records and decodes neural impulses that would usually result in the initiation of limb movement. This brain activity is then forwarded to a computer that uses algorithms to translate the signals which are ultimately directed to a high-definition stimulation sleeve fitted onto a particular limb of the individual. This non-invasive sleeve is then able to stimulate precise muscles in the paralyzed limb which results in the execution of movement.
With the addition of a sophisticated software system which acts as a “virtual spinal cord” the individual can execute movements of individual fingers as well as coordinated hand and wrist movements.
While this may sound like it could take some time from the initial thought to the execution of movement, incredibly it takes just seconds for intention to be translated into action.
“I’ve been doing rehabilitation for a lot of years, and this is a tremendous stride forward in what we can offer these people,” said Dr. Jerry Mysiw, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Ohio State. “Now we’re examining human-machine interfaces and interactions, and how that type of technology can help.”