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Paralyzed Man With Special Brain Implant Moves Arm Mentally

CC BY 2.0 / A Health Blog / A group of scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio successfully tested a system that transports signals from the brain to electrodes inside a man's arm to recover movement.
A group of scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio successfully tested a system that transports signals from the brain to electrodes inside a man's arm to recover movement. - Sputnik International
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A group of scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio successfully tested a system that transports signals from the brain to electrodes inside a man's arm to recover movement.

According to John Donoghue, one of the leaders of BrainGate, the consortium that is developing the brain-computer interface and which includes the Case Western team, the volunteer's movements are still visibly unconfident.

"But the fact that they got a person to control their own body, to stimulate muscles in a specific way to make them move, and do it from a small patch of brain, is incredible," Donoghue said.

Previous tests in brain-implant research have already shown positive results. For instance, volunteers didn't have a problem with moving computer cursors and operating robotic arms. Last year, an Ohio man with partial arm paralysis opened and closed his hand with the power of thought by using a brain implant and external electrodes equipped around his forearm.

The project presented at Chicago meeting, however, takes the research to another level by focusing on someone with a spinal injury which prevents them from moving at all.

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Nine months ago the scientists implanted two groups of silicon electrodes, called Utah arrays, into the part of the man's brain responsible for planning movements (that is motor cortex). Wires from each array ran from the skull through metal ports and were linked to computers intercepting the signals. Then the doctors inserted over 16 fine wires into the volunteer's right arm and hand, to complete the bridge between his brain and the spinal cord injury. Electrical impulses sent to those electrodes contract various muscles and create movement in various parts of the arm. This approach is called functional electrical stimulation, or FES.

The experiment showed that the volunteer could very accurately operate a computer simulation with brain signals. However, moving the real arm is still a challenge for him.

This is a major step forward in creating a wireless device able to convey brain signals through to electronics attached to the limbs of paralyzed people, so that they can perform at least simple daily tasks.

"The vision is that a person would be walking around the room, doing normal things," said Donoghue. "But that is a vision with many steps before it happens."

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