Mar 30, 2017

Brain implants enable paralysed man to move his arms for first time in eight years

BYPankaj Mishra

A man who was completely paralysed has been able to regain movement in his limbs for the first time in eight years as a result of brain implants that enabled thought-control technology, a groundbreaking study has revealed.
Bill Kochevar, 53, who was paralysed neck down due to a bicycle accident, is believed to be the first person who has been able to feed and drink himself by the help of neuro-prostheses that reconnected his brain with his muscles and are enabling him to complete desired movements by just thinking.
“Our research is at an early stage, but we believe that this neuro-prosthesis could offer individuals with paralysis the possibility of regaining arm and hand functions to perform day-to-day activities, offering them greater independence,” said lead author Bolu Ajiboye from Case Western Reserve University in the US.
“So far, it has helped a man with tetraplegia to reach and grasp, meaning he could feed himself and drink. With further development, we believe the technology could give more accurate control, allowing a wider range of actions, which could begin to transform the lives of people living with paralysis,” Ajiboye added in the paper detailed in the The Lancet.
Kochevar underwent brain surgery where sensors were fitted in the motor cortex — the area of brain responsible for hand movement. With the help of a brain-computer interface, the sensors learnt which movements his brain signals were instructing for.
Later, 36 muscle-stimulating electrodes were placed in his upper and lower arm, including four that helped restore finger and thumb, wrist, elbow and shoulder movements.
Using a mathematical algorithm, the brain-computer interface was wired to the electrical stimulators in his arm, which translated his brain signals into commands for the electrodes in his arm.
The electrodes then stimulated the muscles to produce contractions, helping Kochevar intuitively complete the movements he was thinking of.
After 12 months, Kochevar was able to complete day-to-day tasks, including drinking a cup of coffee and feeding himself.
“It’s probably a good thing that I’m making it move without having to really concentrate hard at it. I just think ‘out’ and it just goes,” Kochevar said.

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Pankaj Mishra is a writer of FactorDaily.