Ian Burkhart, a quadriplegic man, was able to move his hand for the first time with help from a brain chip.
23-year-old Burkhart became paralyzed after a driving accident four years ago, according to Discovery News. He is the first patient to use Neurobridge, a system made of a computer chip implanted in the brain, a brain-computer interface and a sleeve able to send electric signals to the forearm and hand of the patient.
Neurobridge was created by doctors at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and researchers from Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. The developers said the system takes signals from the brain, reroutes them around the damaged spinal cord, and sends them directly to the muscles.
"Other devices use electrical stimulation, but they are not responsive to the individual," said Dr. Jerry Mysiw, medical director of Rehabilitation Services at Wexner. "I think we've demonstrated this is another milestone in the evolution of human-machine interface technology."
Burkhart was able to use the system to move his fingers just by thinking about it, ABC News reported. He can use the technology to make a fist, pinch his fingers together, grab objects and rotate his hand.
"It's much like a heart bypass, but instead of bypassing blood, we're actually bypassing electrical signals," explained Chad Bouton, research leader at nonprofit research organization Battelle. "We're taking those signals from the brain, going around the injury, and actually going directly to the muscles."
Burkhart spent months training for the surgery by using the sleeve to stimulate and build his paralyzed forearm muscles to make them respond better to the system's signals. The researchers were able to implant the computer chip into Burkhart's brain by hooking him up to an fMRI machine. The machine shows activity in the brain, and it showed Burkhart images of hand motions and asked him to think about each motion. The chip was implanted into his brain during a three-hour surgery, Discovery News reported.
Mysiw said a lot of concentration is needed to operate the system. Since users can't sense information about physical contact coming from the hand they are moving, they have to completely rely on visualizing motion for success.
"For (Burkhart), it's like trying to stand on a leg after its fallen asleep," Mysiw explained.
The research team is looking to test Neurobridge on other patients. They said the system could eventually be used to treat paralysis caused from traumatic brain injuries or strokes.