A man paralyzed from the shoulders down is now able to feed himself using thought-control technology. This medical first occurred after doctors implanted sensors in the man’s brain that sent signals to the man’s arm.
A bicycle accident eight years ago left Bill Kochevar, 56, with severe spinal cord injuries resulting in his being completely paralyzed from the shoulders down.
The breakthrough procedure that allowed Kochevar to move his arm and hand works something like this: Researchers surgically implanted two tiny sensors just beneath the skull in the motor cortex region of Kochevar’s brain. These sensors detect signals coming from the areas of the brain that once controlled his hand and arm. The researchers also planted 36 sensors inside his arm. These sensors stimulate certain muscles. The brain implants are connected to a computer that is programmed to translate Kochevar’s “move my arm” thoughts into brain signals; the brain signals create electrical impulses that trigger movement in Kochevar’s hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder.
“I thought about moving my arm and I could do it,” Kochevar said. “I’m still wowed every time I do something.” It took him over a year to learn to use the device. However, he said he did not have to strain mentally in order to use it.
According to researchers, this is the first time a device has restored the capacity to both reach with the arm and grasp with the hand in a person so severely paralyzed. Although it will be several years before the device is available to the public, researchers say it is nevertheless a significant step in returning independence to paralyzed people.
The research was pioneered by Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, and is part of an ongoing study of the BrainGate System, a device that restores function in people with paralysis and limited mobility. Research team members are from several institutions in the U.S. and Europe. The study was published in March in the journal Lancet.