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Implanted microchips re-link brain to arms and spinal cord, restoring movement to paralyzed man, an amazing first

Aug. 01, 2023.
1 min. read 13 Interactions

Researchers and clinicians map and pinpoint areas for movement and sensation of touch, using chips to target related brain areas

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Amara Angelica

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Amara Angelica is co-lead author of "Human brain/cloud interface" paper (Front. Neurosci.), 178,662 views

Keith Thomas, paralyzed below the chest, had five microchips implanted in his brain as a first-of-its-kind “double neural bypass” (credit: Feinstein Institute)

Keith Thomas was paralyzed from the chest down from a diving accident. Now a neural bypass has restored movement and sensations in his hand, with lasting gains in his arm and wrist, including outside of the laboratory. 

“This is the first time the brain, body and spinal cord have been linked together electronically in a paralyzed human to restore lasting movement and sensation,” said Chad Bouton, professor in the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine in New York.

Mapping brain areas for arm movement and sensation of touch in hand

Bioelectronic engineers, AI programmers, and surgeons at Feinstein Institutes spent months mapping Thomas’ brain, using fMRIs to help pinpoint the areas responsible for both arm movement and the sensation of touch in his hand. Armed with that information, surgeons performed a grueling 15-hour surgery at North Shore University Hospital, during parts of which the study participant was awake and giving surgeons real-time feedback.

Keith Thomas shakes his sister’s hand for the first time in years (credit: The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research)

As they probed portions of the surface of his brain, in a delicate procedure known as a “double neuro bypass,” Thomas would tell them what sensations he was feeling in his hands. A surgeon, Ashesh Mehta, MD, PhD, inserted two chips in the area responsible for movement and three more in the part of the brain responsible for touch and feeling in the fingers.

The chips send and interpret signals between his brain, damaged spinal cord, and hands, allowing him some movement.

“This type of thought-driven therapy is a game-changer,” said Mehta. “Our goal is to use this technology to give people living with paralysis the ability to live fuller, more independent lives.”

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