22-04-2016

Movement control with thoughts alone: hope for paralyzed individuals?


A young 24-year old American, Ian Burkhard, paralyzed following a diving accident 4 years ago, has succeeded in moving his right arm by his thoughts.

Two years ago, Ian was lucky to be selected to participate in the testing of a new procedure aimed at healing paralysis, in collaboration with Ohio State University, USA.

In April 2014, a neurosurgeon team implanted a 4 mm chip directly into his brain. This chip, with 96 electrodes and hooked up to a computer via a port directly screwed into his skull, serves to “translate” the commands given by the brain. An algorithm decodes the signals and adds other commands which replace those the vertebral column can no longer communicate. On the patient’s arm, the doctors placed a sort of “sleeve” of electrodes connected to and activated by computer transmitted data. The 20 electrodes on this sleeve send a sequence of signals to stimulate the muscular fibers thus allowing arm movement to be activated.

By June 2014, Ian had succeeded in opening and closing his hand, after long months of exercise for his atrophied muscles. Today, he can accomplish daily gestures autonomously: “I realized that my life was going to improve earlier than I had ever imagined”, rejoices the young man who hopes this technology will soon be available outside of the laboratory setting.

Already in 2012, in the Braingate clinical studies, two quadriplegic individuals were able to drink successfully for the first time on their own by using a robotic arm controlled with thoughts, thanks to a transmitter implanted in their brain.

Today this system allows, so to say « to give a new life” to individuals with inert limbs due to spinal cord lesions, and should also offer hope for re-education for victims of cerebral vascular accidents who have lost mobility and those suffering from muscular illnesses.