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New Scientific Achievement: Implants Help Paralyzed Man Feed Himself Using His Thoughts | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Bill Kochevar, 56, is using computer-brain interface technology and an electrical stimulation system to move his own arm after eight years of paralysis, in this undated handout photo. Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland FES Center/Handout via REUTERS

London – In a new scientific achievement, US researchers have succeeded in deploying computer-linked systems to help move the hand and arm of a paralyzed man. The patient underwent an implantation of electrodes in his brain and limbs to stimulate inactive muscles and detect signals sent by the brain.

Bill Kochevar, 53, who was paralyzed below his shoulders in a cycling accident eight years ago, learned to use the system to lift a virtual arm and lift a cup towards his mouth to drink.

Thousands of people around the world suffer from paralysis caused by damages in the vertebral column, 300,000 out of them are from the United States, who might be able to benefit from this new technique which allows their brain and limbs to move without the need of their spine to pass signals.

In the study published in the “the Lancet”, researchers from the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation Center (FES) said the patient succeeded in moving his arm by using his thoughts.

The new method employs the functional electrical stimulation to fill the gap caused by the spine damage between the brain and the muscles. Researchers from Case University implanted electrodes on the surface of Mr. Kochevar’s brain, and developed a computer-linked system to record signals once he imagines moving his own arm and hand.

After the implantation surgery, Kochevar had to spend about four months to train the system to recognize the brain signals that indicated the task he wanted to perform. The researchers later succeeded in transforming the signals emitted by the brain into electrical pulses and used them in delivering orders to the electrodes implanted in the hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder to motivate their muscles on contraction.

The patient trained on all the systems for over 12 months before he begun performing his daily tasks – like eating and drinking – he also carried around the implanted techniques for two years and survived few negative reactions that happened during the experiments.

Kochevar accomplished 11 out of 12 drinking attempts, and succeeded in eating food with spoons. Researchers said that after 45 weeks of follow-up, the patient seems strong and has maintained serious efforts. They added that his capability in moving his muscles has remarkably improved.

Dr. Bolu Ajiboye said the research is at an early stage, but we believe that this neuro-prosthesis could offer individuals with paralysis the possibility of regaining arm and hand functions to perform day-to-day activities.

Commenting on the paper, Dr. Steve Perlmutter of the University of Washington in the US considered the study was “groundbreaking” but warned that the “treatment is not nearly ready for the use outside the lab.