Restoring Movement Capability Back to a Quadriplegic Patient – A Huge and Significant Breakthrough

Thanks to an impressive job of neuroscience, a quadriplegic patient has succeeded in recovering the movement of the hands.

USA – Paralysis is a dysfunction that prevents the signal movement from the nerves to muscles. The engine system is to “translate” and move the brain activity.  This same process is by Ali Rezai and his team in recent work published in Nature Letter where they restored movement to quadriplegic patient.

This designed a device, very similar to that used with robotic prostheses neuronal activity, but capable of interpreting the transmitted signals to the muscles.  It is the first time they showed how to restore movement of a muscle through an artificial connection from the brain; the first time to a quadriplegic patient got back movement.

Neuronal bypass

Like a “bypass” is involved, ingenuity designed by the research team collects the neural signal through a network of electrodes implanted in the brain.  Specifically, this sensor array collects signals from the motor cortex.  After this, it translates and interprets the signal using Machine Learning techniques that allow dealing with complex signals. Then, the processed signal is sent to the muscles through the “bypass”, activating the right muscles.  It is a very similar to what occurs with prosthetic limbs where the signal is transmitted to the robotic limb process. But in this case the signal reaches a set of electrodes attached to the skin of the limb, with the appropriate muscles.

Sending the signal this way is very promising because it has a more complex anatomy and appropriate than a bionic limb. However, it is also more complex to manage, so producing the appropriate signal is not a simple task.  To regain mobility, the quadriplegic patient, who was paralyzed after an accident that severed his spine, has needed fifteen months of training to use the device. With it, he gets to perform movements of individual fingers and six different movements of wrist and hand.  Thus, the patient can grasp, manipulate and move objects with relative ease. Moreover, with training, the patient has managed to recover enough ability to perform daily tasks like grabbing a bottle, pour or get a drink.

Improve the system

But this is only the first (and big) step. There is still much to be done. First, it is clear that there is a need to improve the microelectronic system to increase the capacity of the device. But even more important is the need to apply the electrostimulation system and the algorithms used in a wider range of patients.  This requires adapting the system to more levels and fine-tuning its operation. Much of the study focuses precisely to specify the bases necessary to further improve the method used. The team has focused only on six specific movements to define the parameters and tune the translation of signals.  Later new movements can be designed to complete the amazing cast that make up the possibilities of human beings.

According to the researchers, another key aspect will be to replace the path in two ways.  That is, not only to move a body but also to feel it. This aspect is much more difficult but also vital.  Without proprioception, the perception of our own body, it is very difficult to send correct signals, and make precise and delicate movements is simply impossible.  Therefore, although it has not been the subject of this study, it is an essential area and that, most likely, you will see an improvement in the future.  But in the meantime, at least the researchers are delighted to have shown how they gave back the movement to a quadriplegic person.  It may only be the beginning.  But it is an incredibly promising start.

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