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Technology Can Restore Hand Control to Quadriplegic



(p. A1) Five years ago, a college freshman named Ian Burkhart dived into a wave at a beach off the Outer Banks in North Carolina and, in a freakish accident, broke his neck on the sandy floor, permanently losing the feeling in his hands and legs.

On Wednesday [April 13, 2016], doctors reported that Mr. Burkhart, 24, had regained control over his right hand and fingers, using technology that transmits his thoughts directly to his hand muscles and bypasses his spinal injury. The doctors' study, published by the journal Nature, is the first account of limb reanimation, as it is known, in a person with quadriplegia.

Doctors implanted a chip in Mr. Burkhart's brain two years ago. Seated in a lab with the implant connected through a computer to a sleeve on his arm, he was able to learn by repetition and arduous practice to focus his thoughts to make his hand pour from a bottle, and to pick up a straw and stir. He was even able to play a guitar video game.


. . .


"Watching him close his hand for the first time -- I mean, it was a surreal moment," Dr. Rezai said. "We all just looked at each other and thought, 'O.K., the work is just starting.'"

After a year of training, Mr. Burkhart was able to pick up a bottle and pour the contents into a jar, and to pick up a straw and stir. The doctors, though delighted, said that more advances would be necessary to make the bypass system practical, affordable and less invasive, most likely through wireless technology. But the improvement was significant enough, at least in the lab, that rehabilitation specialists could reclassify Mr. Burkhart's disability from a severe C5 function to a less severe C7 designation.

For now, the funding for the project, which includes money from Ohio State, Battelle and private donors, is set to run out this year -- and with it, Mr. Burkhart's experience of restored movement.

"That's going to be difficult, because I've enjoyed it so much," Mr. Burkhart said. "If I could take the thing home, it would give me so much more independence. Now, I've got to rely on someone else for so many things, like getting dressed, brushing my teeth -- all that. I just want other people to hear about this and know that there's hope. Something will come around that makes living with this injury better."



For the full story, see:

BENEDICT CAREY. "Quadriplegic Gets Use of Hand from Chip Placed in His Brain." The New York Times (Thurs., APRIL 14, 2016): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 13, 2016, and has the title "Chip, Implanted in Brain, Helps Paralyzed Man Regain Control of Hand.")


The scientific article in Nature reporting the advance, is:

Bouton, Chad E., Ammar Shaikhouni, Nicholas V. Annetta, Marcia A. Bockbrader, David A. Friedenberg, Dylan M. Nielson, Gaurav Sharma, Per B. Sederberg, Bradley C. Glenn, W. Jerry Mysiw, Austin G. Morgan, Milind Deogaonkar, and Ali R. Rezai. "Restoring Cortical Control of Functional Movement in a Human with Quadriplegia." Nature 533, no. 7602 (May 12, 2016): 247-50.






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