A paralyzed man was able to move his arm and hand thanks to a few teeny electrodes implanted in his brain.
Scientists at California Institute of Technology stimulated the somatosensory cortex, part of the nervous system that oversees sensations in the body related to movement and touch, with multiple tiny electrodes. The intracortical – or occurring within the cortexes of the brain – stimulation made the unnamed patient feel sensations that he hadn’t experienced since before his accident.
The paralyzed man suffered a spinal cord injury three years ago that left him unable to move or feel anything from the shoulders down.
But researchers were able to momentarily give him back at least a fraction of what he lost after surgically implanting the electrodes into his brain. The stimulators were used to rouse the neurons in the surrounding region with small pulses of electricity, prompting “a lot of pinching, squeezing, movements, things like that,” the participant told Caltech.
“Hopefully it helps somebody in the future,” he continued.
The research paper, published in the journal eLife on Tuesday, says that the next phase for the Caltech team’s work will be connecting the electrodes to prosthetics. The aim through further experimentation will be to enable paralyzed people to both feel and control prosthetic robotic limbs through the part of their brains that carries out the movements they’re attempting to make.
“Currently the only feedback that is available for neural prosthetics is visual, meaning that participants can watch the brain-controlled operation of robotic limbs to make corrections,” said the study’s co-author, Richard Andersen.