Restoring the sense of touch to a ‘complete’ quadriplegic using a brain-computer interface

Study participant restored feeling in hand
Study participant Ian Burkhart. Credit: Battelle Memorial Institute

For the first time, a team of scientists, doctors and researchers led by Battelle and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have demonstrated that a person with a clinically complete spinal cord injury (SCI) can use a brain-computer interface (BCI) to simultaneously reanimate both motor function and sense of touch by using residual touch signaling from his own hand. The findings are reported in the prestigious scientific journal Cell https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(20)30347-0.

The breakthrough came from analysis of years of data collected from NeuroLifeTM program study participant Ian Burkhart, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 2010 when diving into the ocean, and now lives with paralysis in his hands and legs. “When the chip was placed on the surface of Ian’s motor cortex in 2014, it was not known that the signals related to object touch could be observed because of the paralysis,” said lead author and Battelle Principal Research Scientist Patrick Ganzer. “Furthermore, Ian has a very severe SCI that should essentially block hand touch signals from even reaching the brain.”

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Restoring the sense of touch to a ‘complete’ quadriplegic using a brain-computer interface