In a HUGE breakthrough, researchers have implanted a microchip into the brain of a quadriplegic patient, and allowed him to move his hand using just his thoughts.
Ian Burkhart, 23, was paralysed in a car accident, but is now able to move his hand for the first time in four years thanks to a device called Neurobridge.
Developed by researchers at Ohio State University and Batelle, a not-for-profit research organisation located at the university, Neurobridge is a microchip that’s implanted into a patient’s motor centre - the area of the brain that relays signals that tell muscles to move.
Usually these signal would be transmitted via the body’s nerves, but in patients who are paralysed due to nerve damage, the message can’t get through. This has long been thought be an irreversible disability.
The Neurobridge, however, use an algorithm to translate these brain impulses into signals and sends them directly to a muscle stimulation sleeve - in this case worn on Burkhart’s arm - effectively cutting out the middle man and giving the brain muscular control back. It's almost like an electronic spine.
And after years of research, the researchers have finally proved it works.
“Where we are now to me is still staggering in its implications,” Dr W. Jerry Mysiw, Burkhart’s doctor, explains in the Ohio State University Medical Centre video below.
The chip sends the impulses in less than a tenth of a second, so while the response isn’t as fast as biological pathways, the movement is almost instantaneous. This opens up huge possibilities for paralysed people and could eventually help them lead relatively normal lives.
The Neurobridge took three hours to implant into Burkhart’s brain back in April and is roughly the size of a pea.
Things still need to be fine tuned. In the groundbreaking video below, Burkhart moves his fingers for the first time in four years and attempts to hold a spoon, but he doesn’t have much dexterous control. But this is a big first step towards restoring movement to people who are paralysed due to injury and even stroke.
Seriously, let’s all take a moment and think about how awesome science is.