Four years after Ian Burkhart became a quadriplegic during a diving accident, he moved his fingers just by thinking about it.
He did it with the help of an experimental device that bypassed his damaged spinal cord to transmit messages from his brain to his hand.
“It’s much like a heart bypass, but instead of bypassing blood, we’re actually bypassing electrical signals,” said Chad Bouton, research leader at Battelle, an Ohio nonprofit research organization that developed the equipment. “We’re taking those signals from the brain, going around the injury, and actually going directly to the muscles.”
Doctors at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center implanted a chip smaller than a pea into Burkhart’s brain last April. The chip sends his thoughts to a computer, where they’re translated and sent to an “electrode sleeve” on his arm. The sleeve then stimulates the muscles that control his hand.
The technology, called “Neurobridge,” allows Burkhart to make a fist, grasp objects, pinch his fingers together and rotate his hand.