Report: Researchers develop neuron chips to direct movement of robotic prosthetics; Brain implants turn thoughts into action for prosthetic devices

Reporting in the journal Science, researchers at the California Institute of Technology said their experimental implant enabled 34-year-old Erik Sorto, who was paralyzed from the neck down after being shot in the back 13 years ago, to operate a prosthetic arm, the The Wall Street Journal reported.  The two chips implanted in his brain are connected to the prosthetic arm by by wires.  The chips were developed at the University of Utah, and the robotic arm was developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.  Sorto learned how to use the brain implants to operate the arm at the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in California.  The chips themselves target the posterior parietal cortex, a region in the brain that triggers the ability to reach out and grab objects.

“It is not a part of the brain that actually controls the muscles so much as the plans you make to do something,” researcher and neurobiologist Richard Andersen, told the newspaper.  “This was an area of the brain that had never been implanted and never been researched really. We are really sailing in new territory.”

Sorto got the implants during a 5-hour operation in 2013 and within 16 days of the surgery was able to activate the prosthetics.  However, he soon realized that controlling the robotic arm was more of a challenge than first thought.  With a lot of practice he eventually was able to control a computer cursor, shake hands and drink a beer.

Recently, Ossur, an Icelandic orthopedics company, developed tiny implanted myoelectric sensors that allow patients to control prosthetic limbs with their minds, while Second Sight Medical is making progress with a bionic eye.  Second sight hopes to launch clinical trials for the device in early 2017.  Israel-based ReWalk Robotics is working on a robotic exoskeleton system.

REFERENCE:  Fierce Medical Devices; 22 MAY 2015; Joseph Keenan

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