Computer chip allows man to use paralyzed hand


COLUMBUS, Ohio, April 13 (UPI) — A chip implanted in a paralyzed man’s brain allowed him to pick up objects, stir liquids and play the video game Guitar Hero, according to researchers at Ohio State University.

Ian Burkhart first used the NeuroLife system, which includes an chip implanted in his brain, in 2014 to move his hand with his thoughts for the first time since he’d become a quadriplegic during a diving accident in 2010.

Now, researchers at Ohio State University report Burkhart can do much more in a study published in the journal Nature covering his work with NeuroLife during the last year.

“I’ve been doing rehabilitation for a lot of years, and this is a tremendous stride forward in what we can offer these people,” Dr. Jerry Mysiw, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Ohio State, said in a press release. “Now we’re examining human-machine interfaces and interactions, and how that type of technology can help.”

Working with the company Batelle, OSU scientists developed algorithms, software and a stimulation sleeve, as well as the pea-size implant, that make up the NeuroLife system, the university said.

After showing the concept of the system, doctors implanted the tiny computer chip onto the motor cortex of Burkhart’s brain, with the scientists working to determine the right sequence of electrodes to stimulate to allow him to move his fingers and hand.

“It creates what we call a neural bypass,” Nick Annetta, a researcher and electrical engineer at Battelle, said in a press release. “We’re able to turn Ian’s thoughts into signals that bypass his injured spinal cord, and send them directly to the sleeve, causing his muscles to move. It really is incredible.”

The researchers compare the system to a heart bypass, but electrical signals are being bypassed instead of blood. The algorithms help learn and decode Burkhart’s brain activity, sending the signals directly to the stimulation sleeve on his paralyzed arm.

In the span of one year, the researchers report Burkhard spent months learning signals to rotate his hand, make a fist or pinch his fingers together, after first working to stimulate his forearm sending electric pulses to rebuild his atrophied muscles so they could react to his thoughts.

Eventually, the technology is thought to have potential for patients with brain or spinal cord injuries, including strokes. Right now, the researchers plan to recruit four more patients for a trial of the system.

“We’re hoping that this technology will evolve into a wireless system connecting brain signals and thoughts to the outside world to improve the function and quality of life for those with disabilities,” said Dr. Ali Rezai, chair of the neurological institute at OSU. “One of our major goals is to make this readily available to be used by patients at home.”


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