When he was 19 years old, Ian Burkhart broke his neck. He was left quadriplegic; unable to move his upper body from the elbows down. That was six years ago. Thanks to something called a Neural Bypass, he can now play Guitar Hero.
/READ MORE// Mind-Controlled Prostheses Let Hands Feel Again
Burkhart was the first patient to undergo a revolutionary new procedure; doctors implanted ninety-six electrodes into Ian’s brain, and then wrapped his arm in an electrode-heavy arm cuff. Hours of practice later, a computer was able to identify which brain signals were associated with which specific wrist and finger movements. Unlike other techniques which send those signals to a prosthetic, these signals were routed directly to Burkhart’s arm muscles, with the cuff stimulating the tissue.
The groundbreaking procedure was presented in May’s Nature.
While future versions may be portable, the current version is restricted to laboratory use. Lead researcher on the project, Chad Bouton, also envisions the next version being less invasive, perhaps removing the brain surgery aspect completely.
Another team at the University of Melbourne is working with stentrodes implanted using a micro-catheter. It can detect brain signals from inside a blood vessel close to the motor cortex and then relay those signals to a computing device. The surgery is meant to last for the patients lifetime.
The group published it’s findings in February’s Nature magazine, and has so far been able to read the signals from a sheep’s brain. Next year, they hope to try such a device on a paralyzed human to control mechanical exoskeletons.
There’s 99 more stories from 2016. Check out the Best of 2016 series here