Man paralysed below the neck able to move arm and hand using the power of thought

Pioneering trials at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland in the US have restored a quadriplegic man’s ability to reach, grasp and lift objects using brain-controlled technology.   

Bill Kochevar lost all power of movement following a cycling accident 8 years ago but following the implantation of electrodes in his brain and right arm he is now able to raise a mug of water to his lips to drink from a straw and eat mashed potato using a fork.  For the trial Kochevar initially had to undergo surgery to implant electrodes in the motor cortex area of his brain which is responsible for hand movement. He then spent 4 months learning how to use his brain signals to move a virtual-reality arm on a computer screen.  When this was achieved he had another 36 electrodes implanted into his upper and lower right arm. And now the whole system is connected up, the implants in the motor cortex are able to read his brain activity, and generate signals that communicate with the electrodes in his paralysed right arm to trigger movement. As reported in the Guardian: “functional electrical stimulation of the muscles and nerves has been tried before in patients with paralysis, but they have had to use whatever movements they have left, such as shoulder shrugs or head nods, to trigger it.”  However Kochevar told the newspaper: “I think about what I want to do and the system does it for me. It’s not a lot of thinking about it. When I want to do something, my brain does what it does.” “It was wow – I can do that now!” he added. “In the future I will be able any time I want to take a drink of something or feed myself.” Dr Bolu Ajiboye, lead author of a paper detailing the research in the Lancet medical journal, states: “Our research is at an early stage, but we believe that this neuroprosthesis could offer individuals with paralysis the possibility of regaining arm and hand functions to perform day-to-day activities, offering them greater independence,” “So far it has helped a man with tetraplegia to reach and grasp, meaning he could feed himself and drink. With further development, we believe the technology could give more accurate control, allowing a wider range of actions, which could begin to transform the lives of people living with paralysis.” However, Dr Steve Perlmutter from the University of Washington, in a linked comment in the Lancet states that this treatment is futuristic, explaining that: “this treatment is not nearly ready for use outside the lab. The movements were rough and slow and required continuous visual feedback, as is the case for most available brain–machine interfaces, and had restricted range due to the use of a motorised device to assist shoulder movements.” He added: “The study is a proof-of-principle demonstration of what is possible, rather than a fundamental advance in neuroprosthetic concepts or technology. But it is an exciting demonstration nonetheless, and the future of motor neuroprosthetics to overcome paralysis is brighter.”
Share page
Print page
Follow us