Revolutionary Brain Implant: Restoring Movement and Sensation for Paralyzed Patients

2023-08-05 10:00:00

This AI-powered brain implant allows the patient to feel things and move. A very promising major innovation for the paralyzed.

In New York, Keith Thomas was involved in a traffic accident in 2020 that damaged his C4 and C5 vertebrae, making him totally unable to move and feel anything under his chest. Recently, Thomas was able to move an arm at will and feel his sister holding his hand. This thanks to a technologybrain implant developed by the Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine.

This AI-powered brain implant allows the patient to feel things and move

The research team first spent several months mapping his brain with MRI scans to pinpoint the precise areas responsible for arm movements and the sense of touch in his hands. Then, four months ago, surgeons performed a 15-hour operation to implant microchips in his brain. Thomas was even awake during certain phases to indicate what sensations he had in his hand.

Besides the microchips in its body, the team also installed external ports on top of its head. These connect to a computer with artificial intelligence algorithms that the team has developed to interpret their thoughts and turn them into action. Researchers call this approach “thought-driven therapy,” because it all starts with the patient’s intentions. If he thinks about moving his hand, for example, his brain implant sends the signals to the computer, which transmits the signals to the electrodes on his spine and the muscles in his hand to stimulate the movement. They also attached sensors to his fingertips and palms to stimulate sensations.

A very promising major innovation for the paralyzed

Thanks to this system, Thomas was able to move his arm as he wanted and feel his sister holding his hand in the laboratory. While he still has to be hooked up to the computer to take advantage of it all, the researchers say Thomas showed signs of healing even when the system was unplugged. His arm strength is said to have “more than doubled” since research began, and his forearm and wrist can now feel new things. If all goes well, thought-driven therapy might help him regain more sensation and mobility.

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While there is still a very long way to go, the team believes it could change the lives of many paralyzed people. Chad Bouton, the technology developer and principal investigator of this clinical trial, said: “This is the first time the brain, body and spinal cord have been electronically linked in a paralyzed human to restore movement and sensation. When the study participant thinks about moving their arm or hand, we ‘overload’ their spinal cord and stimulate their brain and muscles to help rebuild connections, provide sensory feedback and encourage recovery. This kind of thought-driven therapy is a game-changer. Our goal is to use this technology, one day, to give people living with paralysis the opportunity to live more independently.”

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