COLUMBUS, Ohio (October 21, 2020)—The first man to use a brain-computer interface to regain movement in his paralyzed arm is the first to test out an early prototype of an eventual system for home use.
Battelle and Ohio State University have resumed work on developing the technology in what researchers say is a three- to five-year journey toward a marketable medical device for spinal cord injury.
Ian Burkhart, who volunteered for the five-year proof of concept study, has started testing the early prototype in his Columbus apartment. Controls that once filled a table now attach to the back of his wheelchair. Researchers are seeking others with paralysis to test the system. It's only used in short bursts for the study, nowhere near an everyday device.
“It’s extremely exciting," Burkhart said. "I’m glad that we’re much closer than we were to getting back in the lab."
"I really want it to get into the hands of many other people. That’s what I’ve been fighting for all along," he said. "I want to do everything I can to get it into the hands of everybody else that needs it."
A combined $800,000 in grants from Ohio Third Frontier and a private foundation devoted to spinal cord injury research help Battelle miniaturize its NeuroLife equipment and improve the software's responses to commands.
“Taking neurotechnology from interesting science into true technology accessible to people – turning them into real products that people can use in their everyday life – we’re laser focused on that,” said Justin Sanchez, Battelle life sciences research fellow among the project leaders.
"We need to get these technologies out of the lab and into the home," he said. "These two new awards enable us to do that."
The system includes a wearable sleeve with electrodes that stimulate arm muscles, enabling various hand motions such as pinching to pick up an object. In the lab, it was hooked up via a port to Burkhart's brain, but that interface is not yet added to the portable version. For now it's controlled by outside computer commands, either a remote technician or Burkhart hitting a button via the limited movement in his other arm.
Burkhart made medical history and worldwide headlines in 2014 as the first person to regain control of a paralyzed limb through software that interprets his brain waves and sends a signal to electrodes that stimulate muscle movement. Research giant Battelle developed the technology and collaborated with Ohio State University on the surgery and clinical aspects of the study.
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