|Ian Burkhart using NeuroLife to lift a mug--Courtesy of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center|
For the first time, a quadriplegic was able to move his fingers and hand with his own thoughts, using technology that allows brain signals to circumvent his injured spine and go directly to his muscles.
Columbus, OH-based Battelle, which has been developing the NeuroLife device for about a decade, teamed up with the Ohio State University to trial the device.
Ian Burkhart, now 24, injured his spine in 2010. He had a microchip sensor implanted in the motor cortex of his brain in April 2014--the part where nerve impulses dictating movement originate. The implant sends signals to an electrode sleeve worn on the arm, which translates these impulses and stimulates muscles in the forearm to move the hand and fingers.
"It's much like a heart bypass, but instead of bypassing blood, we're actually bypassing electrical signals," said Chad Bouton, a research leader at Battelle, in a statement. "We're taking those signals from the brain, going around the injury, and actually going directly to the muscles."
In 2014, Burkhart was able to open and close his hand with NeuroLife. Because he uses different brain signals and muscles to perform different movements, the team has worked to determine which sequence of electrodes on the sleeve best allows Burkhart to move his fingers and hand functionally. Now, he can make finer movements, such as swiping a credit card and playing video games. The findings were published April 13 in Nature.
|Ohio State University's Dr. Ali Rezai|
Burkhart is the first of 5 potential patients to participate in the study. A second candidate is on track to start this summer. And while the technology can currently only be used in the lab, the team hopes to make it a wireless system available to patients at home, said Dr. Ali Rezai, a professor of neurosurgery and neuroscience at Ohio State, in a statement.
Meanwhile, the University of Washington's Center for Sensorimeter Neural Engineering (CSNE) is developing similar implants that can sense brain signals and send information to other parts of the nervous system while bypassing the damaged areas of the spinal cord. The CSNE won a $16 million National Science Foundation grant to advance its research.
Other efforts to restore movement to people with spinal injuries include robotic exoskeletons to help paraplegics walk. ReWalk Robotics' ($RWLK) device was the first to be FDA-cleared, but has been struggling with net losses and investor skepticism over the market for the $70,000 device. And in March, the FDA slammed the Israeli company with a warning letter with concerns the exoskeleton could lead to falls and serious injuries or death. The latest exoskeleton to get the FDA nod is Parker Hannifin's ($PH) model, which sells for $80,000.