A paralyzed man was given the chance of moving and carrying out tasks by himself through an experimental technology called neuroprosthetics from the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Restoring brain control
One of the most famous examples of using technology to allow a paralyzed person function again is the case of Stephen Hawking. He was able to speak his mind again through the use of a computer device developed by Intel. And now, a new development in research has proven the concept of providing paralyzed people with the ability to move. This technology, called neuroprosthetics, is being developed by researchers from the Case Western University.
[Image Source: Case Western Reserve University]
After crashing his bike into a truck, 53-year-old Bill Kochevar was left paralyzed from his neck down to his whole body by severely injuring his spinal cord. For eight years, he was unable to do simple everyday tasks like feeding himself. But Kochevar managed to regain use of his right hand just by thinking about it. "I thought about moving my arm, and it did. I could move it in and out, up and down", said Kochevar. He was able to drink a cup of coffee and eat a piece of pretzel on his own.
Functional electrical stimulation (FES), can be used on patients who have sustained spinal cord injuries, coordinates electrical stimulation of muscles and nerves that bring back limb movements. Intracortical brain-computer interface (iBCI) is a system that is implanted in a paralyzed patient which allows them to process commands using their own cortical signals.
Kochevar was provided two intracortical microelectrode arrays around the hand area of his motor cortex and then some months after, he was implanted with 36 electrodes through his skin in his upper right and lower arm. These combinations of electrodes served as electrical stimulants on his hand, elbow and shoulder muscles. A motorized mobile arm was used by Kochevar to aid him with gravitational support and to also provide movement on his right arm.
The combination of implanted FES and iBCI neuroprosthesis is the first literature report that managed to allow paralyzed patients to regain reaching and grasping movements.
"We actually did some experiments in which I closed my eyes while reaching and I was able to do it", said Kochevar.
This clever use of neuroprosthetics on a severely paralyzed patient worked and functioned satisfactorily, however, the technology is being developed in order to make the system smaller. It is aimed to be implanted in the body that would also allow for leg movements to be possible.
"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 motorized device to assist shoulder movements … Thus, 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" said Steve Perlmutter, from the University of Washington.