For the first time, a 23-year-old paralysed man from US has been able to move his hand using his thoughts, thanks to an innovative device that bypasses the injured site. Ian Burkhart, from Dublin, Ohio, is the first patient to use Neurobridge, an electronic neural bypass for spinal cord injuries that reconnects the brain directly to muscles, allowing voluntary and functional control of a paralysed limb.
Burkhart is the first of a potential five participants in a clinical study by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre and Battelle. “It’s much like a heart bypass, but instead of bypassing blood, we are actually bypassing electrical signals,” said Chad Bouton, research leader at Battelle. “We’re taking those signals from the brain, going around the injury, and actually going directly to the muscles,” said Bouton. The Neurobridge technology combines algorithms that learn and decode the user’s brain activity and a high-definition muscle stimulation sleeve that translates neural impulses from the brain and transmits new signals to the paralysed limb. Ian’s brain signals bypass his injured spinal cord and move his hand, hence the name Neurobridge. Burkhart was paralysed four years ago during a diving accident.
During a three-hour surgery on April 22, Ohio State neuroscience researcher Dr Ali Rezai implanted a chip smaller than a pea onto the motor cortex of Burkhart’s brain.
The tiny chip interprets brain signals and sends them to a computer, which recodes and sends them to the high-definition electrode stimulation sleeve that stimulates the proper muscles to execute his desired movements. Within a tenth of a second, Burkhart’s thoughts are translated into action.