New Device Allows Brain To Bypass Spinal Cord, Move Paralyzed Limbs

Jun 27, 2014

For the first time ever, a paralyzed man can move his fingers and hand with his own thoughts thanks to an innovative partnership between The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Battelle.

Ian Burkhart, a 23-year-old quadriplegic from Dublin, Ohio, is the first patient to use Neurobridge, an electronic neural bypass for spinal cord injuries that reconnects the brain directly to muscles, allowing voluntary and functional control of a paralyzed limb. Burkhart is the first of a potential five participants in a clinical study.

“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. “We’re taking those signals from the brain, going around the injury, and actually going directly to the muscles.”

The Neurobridge technology combines algorithms that learn and decode the user’s brain activity and a high-definition muscle stimulation sleeve that translates neural impulses from the brain and transmits new signals to the paralyzed limb. In this case, Ian’s brain signals bypass his injured spinal cord and move his hand, hence the name Neurobridge.

Burkhart, who was paralyzed four years ago during a diving accident, viewed the opportunity to participate in the six-month, FDA-approved clinical trial at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center as a chance to help others with spinal cord injuries.

“Initially, it piqued my interested because I like science, and it’s pretty interesting,” Burkhart said. “I’ve realized, ‘You know what? This is the way it is. You’re going to have to make the best out of it.’ You can sit and complain about it, but that’s not going to help you at all. So, you might as well work hard, do what you can and keep going on with life.”

This technology has been a long time in the making. Working on the internally-funded project for nearly a decade to develop the algorithms, software and stimulation sleeve, Battelle scientists first recorded neural impulses from an electrode array implanted in a paralyzed person’s brain. They used that data to illustrate the device’s effect on the patient and prove the concept.

Two years ago, Bouton and his team began collaborating with Ohio State neuroscience researchers and clinicians Dr. Ali Rezai and Dr. Jerry Mysiw to design the clinical trials and validate the feasibility of using the Neurobridge technology in patients.

5 comments on “New Device Allows Brain To Bypass Spinal Cord, Move Paralyzed Limbs

  • Awesome work! IMO, results like this pretty much put the final nail in the coffin of mind-body dualists and people like John Searle who claim there has to be more to the mind than the physical brain. Also, random side note about Dublin Ohio, I was reading about some Internet technology yesterday (something called SPARQL) and I realized for the first time that the very famous “Dublin Core” model was created in and named for Dublin Ohio not Dublin Ireland. It reminded me of the time I was all enthused to work on a USAF project because it would require trips to the USAF Rome Air Development Center. Man was I psyched for a day, trips to Rome, Yes! Then I realized it was Rome New York which is a very nice place actually but not quite as interesting as the other Rome.

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  • “God chose the right man” indeed. So scientists, engineers, programmers and doctors all bust their backsides to improves things for people on the planet and the default position is to thank god. I know, I get it, the father is emotional at this time, proud of his son and needs to express this in a way that trumps all other feelings thus god chose him. But that God is the default reason for everything I think goes against everything that led to his son being able to have this technology, how about a shout out to science a well timed sound bite to increase funding for science? A well timed sound bite to start opposing the interference to science education by the faithful?

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  • Reckless Monkey.

    I agree.

    And it might be thought a tad patronizing to praise God for making the right decision; the Almighty is infallible, so what else can It do but make the right decisions.

    And pointing out that God choosing his son was “certainly” the right decision, could imply the criticism that the best choice isn’t always made by, you know who, and that sort of thing has been known to incur much wrath and many a smite.

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  • Thank Goodness!

    Daniel Dennett’s wonderful open letter after his medical scare.

    The father’s words in the video, yes, are the usual mental gymnastics to shoe-horn god into whatever. However, his low key coping mechanism barely blips on the radar.

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