TIME neuroscience

New Technology Helps Brain Signals Move Paralyzed Hand

An innovative device sends brain signals directly to muscles, skipping over the spinal cord of the injured patient

A quadriplegic man was able to move his hand simply by willing it to happen with his mind–a medical breakthrough made possible with the help of a new device still in its testing phase.

23-year-old Ian Burkhart, paralyzed in a diving accident four years ago, was the first participant to try out a decade-in-the-making technology called Neurobridge, which sends neural signals directly to muscles.

This April, researchers planted a tiny chip that interprets brain signals into the part of Burkhart’s brain that controls hand and arm movements. The chip interprets signals from a computer and transfers them to a sleeve that stimulated Burkhart’s muscles, thereby skipping over his damaged spinal cord.

“The surgery required the precise implantation of the micro-chip sensor in the area of Ian’s brain that controls his arm and hand movements,” said Dr. Ali Rezai, one of the clinicians leading the trial.

Part of a clinical trial at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, in collaboration with technology development company Battelle, researchers hope that Neurobridge could become a future aid for many patients impacted by spinal cord injuries or traumatic cerebral events like strokes.

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