Revolutionary neural bypass partially resolves paralysis in quadraplegic man


In a world first, a quadraplegic man has partially regained the use of his hand following a neural bypass.

The procedure, carried out at Ohio State University, created an elaborate signalling network from a microchip implanted into Ian Burkhart's motor cortex to a computer which translated nervous signals into electrical pulses sent through to a sleeve-like device worn on Burkhart's forearm. The device then utilised 130 electrodes to stimulate muscles responsible for hand and finger movement.

The neural bypass procedure essentially bridges the gap in the nervous pathway from brain to hand, giving back the use of limbs. In this case, Burkhart was able to perform simple tasks after the procedure such as pouring water from a bottle, stirring a spoon in a cup, swiping a credit card, and even playing the guitar sim game Guitar Hero.

Giving Burkhart his movement back was not a simple task. He had to have up to three sessions per week over 15 months in order to learn how to use the system.

"Initially we'd do a short session and I'd feel mentally fatigued and exhausted, like I'd been in a six- or seven-hour exam," Burkhart told The Guardian. "For 19 years of my life I took it for granted: I think and my fingers move. But with more and more practice it became much easier. It's second nature."

The technology has been some time in the making, with Burkhart originally testing out similar technology in 2014. Since then, the movements he has been capable of performing have become more complex.

Although currently performed in a pre-clinical setting, neural bypass technology is widely thought of as the way forward in addressing paralysis along with nervous cell transplant for spinal cord repair - as evidenced by Darek Fidyka's miraculous recovery from waist-down paralysis to ride a tricycle.

The full report was published in Nature.

Marco Ricci

14 April, 2016