New technology helping the paralyzed move

Eating a hamburger, drinking a cup of coffee or hugging a loved one. Actions we take for granted everyday that can seem miraculous to someone who is paralyzed from the neck down.

Now, researchers are working on helping quadriplegics realize those goals by tapping into the power of their minds.

Tim Hemmes runs a pit bull rescue. He designed his very own website.

Pretty amazing-considering he does it all using his nose, and a specialized computer. Tim is paralyzed from the neck down. A motorcycle accident changed everything for him eight years ago. His infant daughter was the last person he touched before he went for that ride. Now, Jaylei is Tim's driving force.

"I have to hug her one more time,” says Time Hemmes a quadriplegic. “I have to put my arms around her. Feel her, touch her."

That's why he enrolled in an experimental study at the University of Pittsburgh, using the mind to move a machine.

"Someone with a spinal cord injury or amputation can generate the thought to have movement, but because of the spinal cord injury,” explains Dr. Michael Boninger of the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “The thought doesn't go through."

Researchers placed an electrode grid onto the top of Tim's brain. A wire was attached to the grid- guided under the skin of his neck and exited from Tim's chest. That wire was plugged into a computer, decoding the brain signals and putting them into action. Tim was able to control a mechanical arm by using his thoughts at one point reaching out to his girlfriend.

"It may have been plastic and metal, but I was able to put it there,” explains Hemmes. “I was able to hold it out to her for the first time. That's something I'll take with me forever."

"Tim wants to be able to hug his daughter,” says Dr. Boninger. “We want him to be able to feel when he hugs his daughter."

The grid is still years away from commercial use, but it's giving Tim something to focus on.

The FDA only approved the grid for thirty days of testing. After the trial, surgeons removed it from Tim's brain. Tim's dream is to hug his daughter by her wedding day.

REPORT #1903

HISTORY OF "BRAINGATE(tm)": In the late 90s, Dr. Donald Humphrey of Emory University invented a method for brain-computer interfaces, which became the basis for a patent. Shortly after, a Brown University spin-off called Cyberkinetics(tm) was formed to turn a collection of lab tests into a regulatory approved set of clinical trials for the first-generation neural interface system: the result was the BrainGate(tm) Neural Interface System. Based on intellectual property from Emory, Brown, The University of Utah, Columbia, and MIT-as well as Cyberkinetics own patent portfolio-Cyberkinetics created a brain-implantable sensor on a Bionic(r) computer chip smaller than the size of a penny to monitor brain activity in patients and convert the intention of the user into commands. In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Cyberkinetics the first of two Investigational Device Exemptions (IDEs) to perform the research. In the summer of 2009, BrainGate, Co. acquired the rights and assets for the BrainGate(tm) technology and intellectual property from Cyberkinetics(tm). Now, they have the long-term goal of creating a brain implant that allows people to use their thoughts to control electrical devices and they hope these technologies will become a powerful means to restore communication, mobility, and independence to people in need. (Source: BrainGate)

HOW IT WORKS: Tiny chips are implanted in the brain. Those electrodes then tap into electrical signals from brain cells that command movement. They are able to bypass a broken spinal cord and relay the messages to the robotic third arm. (Source: BrainGate)
DARPA ARM: The robotic ARM (Autonomous Robotic Manipulation) was developed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which developed the humanlike arm in a $100 million project for DARPA, the Pentagon's research agency. It was designed to be closer to a natural arm than any existing prosthetic device in its appearance, ability and connection to the body. It has 22 degrees of motion, including four fingers that move independently, a thumb that pivots on a ball joint - a first for the prosthetics industry - as well as a powered shoulder, elbow and wrist. It weighs about nine pounds, around the weight of a natural limb.
(Source: USA Today, Healio)

EXPERIMENT UPDATE: The ARM program is developing software to perform human-level tasks quickly with minimal direction. During rigorous testing in November 2011, the best team achieved 93% success in grasping modeled and unmodeled objects. The ARM program has entered its second phase, where focus turns to complex bimanual manipulation scenarios. (Source: DARPA)

For More Information, Contact:
Anita Srikamav
University of Pittsburg School of Medicine

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