Losing movement in one or more limbs is a debilitating condition that can become a lifetime burden for most. Now researchers at The Ohio State University have made a breakthrough which showcases what promises to be a major leap forward in medical science.
Six years ago, a young man named ‘Ian Burkhart’ was diagnosed as quadriplegic, after a diving accident in which his C5 vertebrae was injured. However today, he is able to grasp objects and play video-games using his own hands, after surgeons inserted an innovative brain implant capable of understanding his neural signals. The device, the first of its kind, appears to revolutionise how paralysis may be treated in the future.
The neural connections between Ian’s brain and limbs was severed, which causes a type of paralysis that used to be incurable. Surgeons have essentially managed to now connect healthy nerve endings to damaged ones and restore the broken connection. The technique involves using a device called Neurolife, a pioneering neural bypass technology, to restore partial movement and functions to a patient’s arms and hands. The technology uses an array of pea-sized electrodes to send signals to the paralysed limb.
Sadly, restoring full movement is still a way off. It is extremely difficult to translate electrical impulses from the brain into movement. To overcome this, researches from Battelle, the company that manufacture the device, have been painstakingly recording the neural signals from a paralysed persons motor cortex, in order to decipher which signals correspond with which movements. Over the last decade these signals have been constructed into a series of algorithms that understand the neural impulses. These algorithms are contained within the Neurolife device. One end of the device was implanted into Ian’s brain, whilst the other end was connected to his right arm and hand, using cables to bypass the damaged spinal cord.
This innovative technology could also be used to treat other debilitating conditions in the future, such as brain damage.
Watch the Neurolife video here:
Watch Ian’s Story here:
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