Technology

Paralyzed Man Moves Hand Using Brain (and science)


A team from Ohio State University and Battelle, an American research firm, have made a momentous breakthrough in the field of neuroscience. They have enabled a man who is paralyzed from the neck down to move his hand using his thoughts.

The man, 23 year old Ian Burkhart, broke his spine during a diving incident in 2010, and has been unable to move the majority of his body ever since. Using the new ‘Neurobridge’ technology, he was able to move his fingers and wrist as he manipulated a spoon. In order for the technology to work, Burkhart had to think about moving his hand. Sounds like simple science, but there is more. A chip implanted in his brain received the signal, sent it via external cables to a computer to be decoded and modified, and then to a set of electrodes to stimulate the muscles in his hand.

The researchers claim that the success of the Neurobridge technology and its development will usher in a new “bionic” age. Scientists at the university and at Battelle foresee the technology as a way to help stroke patients and other people who have lost control of their arms and legs.

Assistive technology is nothing new in science. For decades, technology has been used to augment the lives of people with disabilities. Devices like prosthetics, hearing aids, pacemakers, and others. However, this is the first example of assistive technology that can be controlled by the patient’s own brain.

Burkhart and his family, for their part are optimistic about the technology, and its potential future advancements that could benefit millions of people with disabilities worldwide.

The technology works in a way that is analogous to the body’s neural network, wherein the brain produces a thought in the form of a moving electrical signal. The signal is transmitted through the brain stem and into the spinal cord. Through this process, the signal is translated and modified so that when it reaches its destination, the muscles, it can cause them to contract or relax in order to perform a desired function. The neuro-muscular-skeletal system is extremely complex and can break down if any part is significantly damaged: this is the case with spinal cord and brain injuries as well as with diseases such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.

For more information about ‘Neurobridge’ technology, visit the Ohio State University website: http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/mediaroom/features/Pages/Neurobridge-Collaboration.aspx

 


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