Study: Brain Implant Lets Paralyzed Man Regain Utilize of Hand

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 10:30 PM

Ian Burkhart of Dublin, Ohio, can grasp a bottle, pour its contents into a jar, choose up a adhere and stir the liquid. He can grab a credit card and swipe it through a reader.

A paralyzed 24-year-old man has regained some utilize of his right hand, controlling it with signals relayed from electronic sensors in his brain.

Ian Burkhart of Dublin, Ohio, can grasp a bottle, pour its contents into a jar, choose up a adhere and stir the liquid. He can grab a credit card and swipe it through a reader. He can move individual fingers and keep a toothbrush.

But he can do these things only for a few hours a week, in a laboratory where he's 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 love Burkhart with spinal cord injuries, and maybe others with stroke or traumatic brain injury.

If and when the device can be used at home, "it'll really expand my quality of life and independence," said Burkhart, who's paralyzed over most of his body.

Burkhart'south case is described in a paper released Wednesday by the journal Nature. It'south the latest report from research that's let paralyzed people work robotic arms, computers and other devices with signals picked up by brain implants, or regain utilize of paralyzed muscles by sending signals from other muscles they still control.

In contrast, the new report demonstrates that a patient can utilize a brain implant to encourage his own paralyzed muscles.

Burkhart was a college freshman when he broke his neck about six years ago. He dove into an ocean wave and was slammed into a sand bar. As a result, he's paralyzed from the center of his chest down, with number utilize of his arms below the elbow.

For the experimental treatment, surgeons in two thousand-fourteenth placed a tiny device on his brain that includes ninety-six electrodes that penetrate just below the surface. It monitors a relatively tiny pop of brain cells in the region that controls movement of his right hand, sampling the activity three million times a second.

"We're really just eavesdropping on a few conversations between those neurons and we're trying to figure out what they're talking about," said Chad Bouton, an author of the Nature paper who worked on the project while at the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. He's presently at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York.

When Burkhart is in the lab, a cable is attached to a tiny projection from his skull to carry signals from the sensor to a computer, which interprets what movement he's trying to accomplish. Then it sends commands to an array of up to one hundred sixty electrodes strapped to his forearm. Electrical stimulation from those electrodes activates his hand and finger muscles.

"This is taking one'south thoughts and, within milliseconds, linking it to concrete movements," said Dr. Ali Rezai, a study author and neurosurgeon at OH State University.

Burkhart said the stimulation feels love a slight tingle or buzz, noting that he's only a tiny sensation in his arm because of his injury. He also said his muscles tire after a while.

During the first few months, he became mentally worn out from concentrating on precisely what muscles he needed to move, he said. Presently "it'south gotten much easier," he said in an interview.

But if he faces a new task or one he's not done for a while, "I kind of have to think about it a tiny bit beforehand, and really think through what I'm trying to accomplish."

Rezai said Burkhart is getting faster and more fluid in his movements as he and the computer system memorise from each other.

Burkhart said he'd love to partake someday in testing a next-generation version of the system that could be used exterior the lab.

Researchers said they hope to make better the technology by such steps as making the connections wireless, maybe placing electrodes on or beneath the scalp rather than in the brain, and replacing the strapped-on forearm electrodes with implanted ones.

Experts who weren't involved in the project said the results hold promise.

Lee Miller of Northwestern University, who's done similar research in monkeys, called the results "an necessary step" toward developing a tool for helping patients. He agreed that the forearm electrodes would probably have to be implanted, but he said the current approach is "clearly a excellent starting point."

Chet Moritz of the Univ of WA called the findings exciting. Direct stimulation of muscles can quickly lead to fatigue, he noted, but that might be avoided by stimulating the spinal cord to move the muscles instead.

P. Hunter Peckham, a Prof of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve Univ in Cleveland, said the work is valuable in showing that a brain implant can be used to control several muscles at a time.

Peckham said many paralysis patients are already doing "impressively well" at residence with a system that lets them encourage hand movements with signals generated by other muscles. But the brain implant approach could be useful for people with more severe injuries who can't control those other muscles, or who necessity a more complex signal to create specific movements, he said.

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Online:

Nature: http:// www. nature. com/nature

Burkhart website: http:// www. ianburkhart. com

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Chase Malcolm Ritter at http://twitter. com/malcolmritter His work can be found at http://bigstory. ap. org/content/malcolm-ritter

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