Researchers Teach a Quadriplegic’s Hand To Move Again

In a development that could help restore fine motor movement to patients with brain or spinal-cord injuries, researchers have briefly restored a 24-year-old quadriplegic man's ability to grasp a cup and perform other everyday tasks with his hand, wrist and fingers.

The effort, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, set out to circumvent a spinal cord injury and reanimate a limb directly, using reinterpreted electrical signals issued by a patient's own brain.

In a lab in Ohio, those signals -- recorded by a suite of sensors sunk into the subject's motor cortex -- were painstakingly translated into electrical impulses that would command the young man's fingers to wrap around a cup, his wrist to twist so he could pour out the contents of a bottle and his hand to grasp a stick and stir.

When 24-year-old Ian Burkhart, a quadriplegic injured in a diving accident five years ago, subsequently thought about those movements, a cuff worn around his lower arm would issue electrical commands to his fingers, hand and wrist to perform them.

Researchers described their experiment in brain-machine interfaces as a way to bypass a severed connection between brain and limbs and restore some independent movement to those with grievous injuries.

Others working in this field have used recorded sequences of brain signals to make a variety of robotic devices move on command. But the latest effort to be reported, which occurred in a lab two years ago, sent those messages directly to distant muscles via a cuff wrapped around the forearm.

Receiving those impulses through the cuff, the muscles in Burkhart's hand and wrist -- which at that time had been immobilized for three years after his spinal cord was damaged -- briefly went back to work.

"That was just like the flicker of hope. This is something that is working," said Burkhart in a...

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