A neuroprosthetic has allowed a paralyzed man to regain use of his hands and arms — and even play Guitar Hero.
According to the Atlantic, 24-year-old Ian Burkhart — who became paralyzed after breaking his fifth cervical vertebra after a diving accident when he was a college freshman — volunteered to be a test subject for a Ohio State University research team in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
The research team, led by engineer Chad Bouton and neurosurgeon Ali Rezai, designed a neuroprosthetic called Neurolife that would directly connect the brain to muscles in the arms. In April 2014, Burkhart had a number of microscopic electrodes implanted in his motor cortex, so when he thought about moving his arm, the implant would decode the neuron activity and send signals to electrodes on his forearm, moving the arm. A few months of training later, Burkhart was able to open and close his hand just by picturing it.
“For years, I had thought about it many, many times, and nothing had happened,” Burkhart told the Atlantic. “I wasn’t really able to feel my hand moving but I could see it.”
It’s a major step forward in the field of neuroprosthetics.
“This is the first time that it’s been done in humans. We allowed Ian to regain movement in real-time, all through his thoughts,” Bouton told the Atlantic.
“Something will come around that makes living with this injury better.”
The neuroprosthetic can’t be taken outside the lab, and it can be used for just a few hours per week. The New York Times writes that funding from the project is about to run out, meaning that soon, Burkhart will no longer have access to Neurolife.
“That’s going to be difficult, because I’ve enjoyed it so much,” Burkhart told the New York Times. “If I could take the thing home, it would give me so much more independence. Now, I’ve got to rely on someone else for so many things, like getting dressed, brushing my teeth — all that. I just want other people to hear about this and know that there’s hope. Something will come around that makes living with this injury better.”
Watch Burkhart and Bouton demonstrate Neurolife in the video below: