The dream of electrically bypassing spinal cord injuries to restore movement to paralysed limbs is becoming a reality.
Thanks to technology developed by researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus, a quadriplegic man has
been able to use his own thoughts to move his paralysed arm.
Ian Burkhart, A 23-year-old who is paralysed from the neck down, is the first patient ever to use Neurobridge.
It’s an electronic neural bypass system that reconnects the brain directly to the muscles and enables the patient to voluntarily control a paralysed limb by sending signals.
For Burkhart, the prospect of moving his limbs again is exciting and potentially life-changing.
“Picking up a cup of water and drinking it, or brushing your teeth or feeding yourself, you know, those things”.
If you can do those on your own, it makes a big difference in your life,” he said. Batelle developed the Neurobridge technology.
Lead researcher Chad Bouton talked us through it.
“It’s much like a heart bypass, but instead of bypassing blood, we’re actually bypassing electrical signals,” he explained.
“We’re taking those signals from the brain, going around the injury, and actually going directly to the muscles.”
Neurobridge technology involves implanting a chip smaller than a pea into the patient’s brain to read electrical activity in the area responsible for hand motion.
Signals are continuously gathered and decoded using special software, which figures out which muscles are
being asked to contract.
This is then passed onto an electric stimulator that activates those muscles.
It all happens within a tenth of a second, providing almost instantaneous control.
The team plans to test Neurobridge on four other patients as part of the ongoing clinical trial.