Researchers at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research have confirmed that a minimally invasive brain implant restores touch sensations in the fingertips. The success of this first in-human study could lead to new options for individuals living with paralysis, stroke, diabetes, epilepsy, and other neuropathic conditions that result in loss of touch sensation. 

A research paper published in the journal Brain Stimulation documents the implantation of a stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) electrode in the brains of two participants with intractable epilepsy. The electrode was planted through a small hole drilled in the skull, an improvement over brain implant procedures that require removing small sections of bone. Less than 1mm thick and 68.5 mm long, the electrode provides cortical stimulation in the sulcus (the deep groove in the folded brain tissue of the cerebral cortex). 

Recent studies have applied microelectrode arrays and electrocorticography stimulated the gyrus, the surface of the fold between sulcus grooves. Those methods have sparked touch sensations in the hands, but not the fingertips. While promising for tactile restoration, fingertip sensation is necessary to achieve the dexterity needed to manipulate objects in everyday tasks.  

Both participants in the Feinstein Institutes study reported tingling and other sensations in the localized area of the fingertips during electrostimulation via the electrode, signifying that sulcus stimulation has a greater effect on that area. The scientists also used the electrode implants to record neural signals which can be applied to further research.

The Feinstein Institutes in Manhasset, NY, is the science arm of New York’s largest healthcare system, Northwell Health. With a long-term goal to restore sensation and improve functionality for patients living without the sense of touch, the next step for the research team involves developing an electrode implant for extended use.