Quirks and Quarks

Neural bypass allows paralysed man to move his hand

Scientists have demonstrated an electronic system that connects brain to muscles, bypassing the injured spinal cord of a paralysed man.

Computer reads brain activity and stimulates muscles in the forearm

Volunteer Ian Burkhart grasps a coffee cup. Electrodes in the sleeve around his arm stimulate muscles that articulate the joints of the hand. (The Ohio State University)
Researchers have demonstrated a system that uses an electronic "neural bypass" to read signals directly from the brain, and send them to the hand of a quadriplegic man, allowing him to move his fingers independently and grasp objects.

Chad Bouton, Vice-President of Advanced Engineering and Technology at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, led the team.

There were several key elements in the system, including an implant surgically attached directly to the motor cortex of the brain, a computer that then used machine learning to decode neural activity and translate it into a pattern of electric impulses, and a sleeve that attached to the volunteer's forearm, containing more than a hundred electrical connectors that stimulated muscle activity that controlled hand movements. Mr. Bouton stresses that this experimental technology is still many years from widespread use.

Related Links

Paper in Nature
- The Ohio State University release
Nature news story
IEEE Spectrum story
ArsTechnica story
CBC News story