Five years ago, a diving mishap left Ian Burkhart with quadriplegia. Since then, he has regained some use of his hand through a breakthrough in medical technology. Burkhart, now age 24, has developed fine-motor skills in his arm and hand using the only power of his thoughts–with the assistance of computers. This video shows how his team of doctors created this ground-breaking achievement.
Burkhart regained control over his right hand and fingers, using technology that transmits his thoughts directly to specific muscles and bypasses his spinal injury. “Watching him close his hand for the first time — I mean, it was a surreal moment,” says Dr. Ali Rezai, director of Ohio State’s Center for Neuromodulation. “We all just looked at each other and thought, ‘O.K., the work is just starting. The doctors’ research, published in the journal Nature, is the first account of limb reanimation, as it is called, in a person with quadriplegia.
The new technology isn’t a cure for paralysis. Burkhart can use his hand only when connected to computers in the lab, and the researchers said there was much more work to do before the system could provide significant mobile independence.
The technology, a partnership between The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center and Battelle Memorial Institute both in Columbus, Ohio, works somewhat like learning a video game. Doctors implanted a chip in Burkhart’s brain two years ago. In a lab with the implant connected through a computer to a sleeve on his arm, he can learn by repetition and practice to direct his thoughts to tell his hand pick up and pour from a bottle, and to grasp a straw and stir. He was even able to play a guitar video game.
You can read our original blog post on the subject from 2014 by clicking here. It also contains video about Burkhart’s original surgery.