Paralysed patients use thoughts to control robotic arm
Published: 16th May 2012 18:05:51
Two patients in the United States who are paralysed from the neck down have been able to control a robotic arm using their thoughts.
It allowed one to drink unaided for the first time in nearly 15 years.
The technique, described in the journal Nature, links a sensor implanted in the brain to a computer, which translates electrical signals into commands.
In years to come, scientists want to reconnect the brain to paralysed limbs to enable them to function again.
The project was a partnership by Brown University and the Department of Veteran Affairs, Rhode Island, and the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston.
In 2006 in a previous Nature paper, the team showed that the same neural interface system could be used by a paralysed patient to control a cursor on a computer screen.
I couldn't believe my eyes when I was able to drink coffee without help. I was ecstatic. I had feelings of hope and a great sense of independence”
The key is a tiny sensor implanted on to the surface of the motor cortex.
Thinking about moving an arm or hand activates neurons in this part of the brain and the electrical activity is sent via a cable to a computer, which translates them into commands.
Both patients in this latest research project were paralysed many years ago by strokes and have no viable movement below the neck.
Video footage shows 58-year-old Cathy Hutchinson using the neural interface to control a robotic arm and bring a flask of coffee to her mouth. It was the first time in nearly 15 years that she had taken a drink unaided.
She communicates by picking out letters on a board using eye movement and wrote: "I couldn't believe my eyes when I was able to drink coffee without help. I was ecstatic. I had feelings of hope and a great sense of independence."
That was echoed by Prof John Donoghue, a neurologist at Brown University.
He said: "There was a moment of true joy, true happiness. It was beyond the fact that it was an accomplishment. I think it was an important advance in the field of brain-computer interfaces that we had helped someone do something they had wished to do for many years."
This research shows that the part of the brain that deals with movement continues to function more than a decade after paralysis.
Furthermore, the chip continues to function long-term - Cathy Hutchinson had the sensor fitted six years earlier.
The technology is years away from practical use and the trial participants used the system under controlled conditions in their homes with a technician on hand.
Nonetheless, another of the report authors, Prof Leigh Hochberg, said the team had four goals:
Prof Hochberg freely admitted that the third and fourth goals were distant ambitions but they were the "real dream" for people with such disabilities. The researchers say it is impossible to put a timescale on when this might be achieved.
Story Landis, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which part-funded the work, said: "This technology was made possible by decades of investment and research into how the brain controls movement.
"It's been thrilling to see the technology evolve from studies of basic neurophysiology and move into clinical trials, where it is showing significant promise for people with brain injuries and disorders."
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Paralysed patients use thoughts to control robotic arm. [Online] (Updated 16 May 2012)
Available at: http://www.manchesterwired.co.uk/news.php/1429037-Paralysed-patients-use-thoughts-to-control-robotic-arm [Accessed 17th June 2013]
At 13:55:50 in OtherA 12-year-old girl with Down's syndrome is in hospital with a serious head injury after being assaulted by a group of girls in a Bolton...
At 12:21:36 in OtherTwo men involved in a £730,000 armed robbery at an Edinburgh jewellers have been jailed....
At 11:52:52 in OtherMoors Murderer Ian Brady has appeared in public for the first time in decades at a hearing considering his sanity as part of a bid to take h...
At 11:52:32 in OtherStuart Hall abused his position as a BBC broadcaster to sexually abuse under age girls, Preston Crown Court heard....
At 10:30:17 in OtherA 24-year-old woman has died in hospital after falling at the Stone Roses concert in Glasgow on Saturday....
At 17:44:32 in OtherPolice made 24 arrests during and after the Stone Roses concert in Glasgow....
At 15:07:06 in OtherAlcohol sales restrictions have been introduced on a railway-themed real ale trail marred by rowdy behaviour....
At 15:34:10 in OtherA march has taken place in memory of a woman who left a suicide note in which she said she was worried about government benefit changes....
At 15:03:36 in OtherA man found with serious head injuries in a street in Greater Manchester has died. ...
At 14:11:27 in OtherA rally has been held at the National Railway Museum in York over its possible closure....
News In Other Categories
Ofcom has resolved a complaints case against the BBC over offensive language broadcast live during the 2013 Oxford and Cambridge University ...
A China-based supercomputer has leapfrogged rivals to be named the world's most powerful system....
Tax avoidance is "sinful" and tantamount to robbery, one of the UK's most senior clerics has said as G8 leaders prepare to di...
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol ba...
A bankrupt businessman who shot a solicitor in his office at close range has been found guilty of murder....
Confusing messages about how much alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy is making it difficult for the NHS to tackle substance misuse, exper...