Brain Implant Lets Paralyzed Man Use His Hand Again

'This is taking one's thoughts and, within milliseconds, linking it to concrete movements'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 13, 2016 4:32 PM CDT

(Newser) – A paralyzed 24-year-old man has regained some use of his right hand, controlling it with signals relayed from electronic sensors in his brain, the AP reports. Ian Burkhart of Dublin, Ohio, can grasp a bottle, pour its contents into a jar, pick up a stick and stir the liquid. He can grab a credit card and swipe it through a reader. He can move individual fingers and hold a toothbrush. But he can do these things only for a few hours a week, in a laboratory where he is hooked up to an experimental device that interprets his brain signals and stimulates his muscles with electrodes on his forearm. With improvements, researchers hope the system will eventually aid the everyday lives of people like Burkhart with spinal cord injuries, and perhaps others with stroke or traumatic brain injury.

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If and when the device can be used at home, "it will really increase my quality of life and independence," said Burkhart, who is paralyzed over most of his body. Burkhart's case is described in a paper released Wednesday by the journal Nature. "This is taking one's thoughts and, within milliseconds, linking it to concrete movements," said Dr. Ali Rezai, a study author and neurosurgeon at Ohio State University. It's the latest report from research that has let paralyzed people operate robotic arms, computers, and other devices with signals picked up by brain implants, or regain use of paralyzed muscles by sending signals from other muscles they still control. Click for more on Burkhart's treatment, including how it feels for him to move his fingers. (Read more paralysis stories.)

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