We often write about curious, interesting, and impressive new Health Tech, but never have I been astounded as by the results of neural bypass surgery in a joint project by Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Neurological Institute and Battelle. The researchers and physicians helped a quadriplegic man named Ian Burkhardt regain use of his right hand solely by directing movement with his thoughts.
The project began with neural mapping, recording the exact places in the man’s brain that were involved with thoughts of specific movements. He had to repeat over and over the precise movements he wanted to happen. An implanted array of electrodes recorded the precise locations that “lit up” with the thought of each movement. With the complex movement brain location data gathered. the team wrote software and the algorithms necessary to work with a stimulation sleeve they also designed. When they tested the sleeve on the subject with the data, it worked. The next step in the process was to implant a small computer chip, about the size of a pea, attached to the motor cortex in the brain.
Once the implanted chip, the stimulation sleeve, the software, and the algorithms were in place, the work really began for Mr. Burkhardt. The three-hour surgery took place two years ago in April 2014 and he’s been working since then to regain use of his hand. To date, he can make isolated finger movements and perform six different wrist and hand motions. While that may not sound like a lot, it sure means a great deal to him. He can pick up a bottle, pour from it, and set it back down, for example, and even play Guitar Hero.
The longer term implications for this first neural bypass are truly wondrous. As medical science learns more about this technology more people who lose normal control of their limbs will be able to regain at least partial function.