Scientists reported Wednesday in the journal Nature that they have been able to implant a chip in a paralyzed man’s brain that sends signals to an array of 130 electrodes embedded in a “sleeve” he wears on his arm that has given him the ability to move his hand with significant accuracy.
- Holding a glass of water and pouring it out.
- Using a stick to stir the contents of a jar.
- Playing Guitar Hero. Swiping a credit card.
The first time I was able to open and close my hands it really gave me a sense of hope for the future, Burkhart, now 24, said in a call with reporters.
Interface created by researchers Chad Bouton, Nick Annetta and Ali Rezai , Burkhart concentrates on the movement he wants to make and a computer connected to the chip translates those signals into something his muscles understand. It turns out that each person has his or her own unique language that makes the machine a kind of “interpreter.”
When the doctors first broached the procedure and experiment, he was hesitant. “It was something I certainly had to consider for quite a bit of time,” he recalled.
But in the end, Burkhart said, he felt the risk was worth it because of the technology’s potential for improving his daily quality of life. “For me being in a wheelchair and not being able to walk is not the biggest thing.” Rather, “it’s the lack of independence” that comes from not being able to use his hands. “I have to rely on so many people for things.”
The breakthrough is one of a number of recent advances in brain-computer interfaces for paralysis. In December 2012, scientists from the University of Pittsburgh helped Jan Scheuermann, who is quadriplegic, grab chocolate and put it to her mouth with a robotic appendage. Others have been experimenting with similar treatments for people with Lou Gehrig’s disease and stroke.
Throughout the world, millions of people are living with full or partial paralysis, and the achievement marks what scientists say may be a new era in the types of treatment available to them. While the interface can only be used in the lab at this time, Annetta, an electrical engineer at the Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute, said their immediate goals include miniaturizing the equipment and making it more practical for patients so they can use it in their homes or out and about in their communities.