Scientists Have Helped a Paralyzed Man Get Movement Back

On a family vacation, then 19-year-old Ian Burkhart dove into the waves and broke his neck. Doctors told him he would most likely be paralyzed from the shoulders down for the rest of his life. Luckily, researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center were working on technology that could help paralyzed people regain control of their limbs. He volunteered to be a test subject. The researchers implanted a microchip in his brain to let them watch the signals it unsuccessfully tried to send to his muscles. They recorded which areas of his brain activated as he attempted to mirror certain hand movements, then used this information to create a wearable device designed to activate the muscles needed for those movements.

Now, with his brain sending signals to a computer and the computer sending similar signals to the wearable device, Ian can grasp large objects, pinch small ones, and even play a guitar-based video game. Though this "neural bypass" technique has been used to help people operate a prosthetic arm, this is the first time it's been used to help someone regain control of their own limb.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Ian Burkhart's injury prevents the signals from his brain from reaching his muscles. 00:45

  2. Ian watched clips of hands moving in certain ways and tried copying them while scientists deciphered the signals his brain attempted to send to his muscles. 01:10

  3. The computer picks up signals from Ian's brain and transmits them to a device on his arm that gives signals to his muscles. 02:04

Want to learn more about the state of prosthetics research and development? Listen to our conversation with Dr. Sliman Bensmaia on the Curiosity Podcast. Stream or download the episode using the player below, or find it everywhere podcasts are found, including iTunes, Stitcher, and Gretta.

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Written by Curiosity Staff June 7, 2016

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