Researchers touted a major breakthrough this week when a paraplegic patients successfully moved his own hand using only signals from his own mind.
The technology is comprised of a microchip implanted in the brain and a "sleeve" laden with electrodes that stimulates the muscles in the arm in precise coordination with signals from the brain. Unlike other technologies that rely on robotics or computers to move paralyzed limbs, the so-called "NeuroBridge" system translates brain signals into muscle stimulation.
"It’s much like a heart bypass, but instead of bypassing blood, we’re actually bypassing electrical signals," researcher Chad Bouton said. "We’re taking those signals from the brain, going around the injury, and actually going directly to the muscles."
The patient, 23-year-old Ian Burkhart was injured in a car accident in 2010, according to a press release. He is the 1st of up to 5 patients who will test the NeuroBridge system in the 6-month clinical trial.
Burkhart underwent a 3-hour surgery to implant a pea-sized microchip in the area of his brain associated with movement. The NeuroBridge system learned Burkhart’s brain patterns so that it could decode signals indicating arm movement, and the device now takes about 1/10th of 1 second to translate thought into action in Burkhart’s arm. Burkhart spent several months with the electrode sleeve, rebuilding atrophied muscles and helping the device decipher his brain signals.
The technology, developed in collaboration between Ohio State University and research & development group Battelle, aims to one day help patients with a variety of movement disorders, including stroke and traumatic brain injury. Battelle is working on new iterations of the electrode sleeve that could enable more precise movement of individual fingers along with software that the company calls a "virtual spinal cord" that could facilitate coordinated movement between the hand and the wrist.