Is paralysis on the verge of being cured by robotics?

Image credit: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

A new study published online has revealed how mind-controlled medical robotics has helped one man with paralysis in his arm to feel sensation in it again - 10 years after he lost mobility in his affected limb.

In what's being described as a first ever case of its kind in humans, a study published in Science Translational Medicine, (1) a team of experts led by Robert Gaunt, Ph.D., assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh, demonstrated a technology that allows 28-year-old Nathan Copeland to experience the sensation of touch through a robotic arm that he controls with his brain, connected to a Brain Computer Interface (BCI), which was developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC.

"I can feel just about every finger--it's a really weird sensation," Mr Copeland said about a month after surgery. "Sometimes it feels electrical and sometimes its pressure, but for the most part, I can tell most of the fingers with definite precision. It feels like my fingers are getting touched or pushed."

Dr Gaunt explained that everything about the work is meant to make use of the brain's natural, existing abilities to give people back what was lost but not forgotten. "The ultimate goal is to create a system which moves and feels just like a natural arm would," he commented. "We have a long way to go to get there, but this is a great start."



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