Brain implant allows man to control paralyzed arm by thought alone.


Thanks to a computer interface linking his brain and arm, a paralyzed man has become the first quadriplegic in history to regain the ability to perform complex hand and finger movements.

Ian Burkhart was paralyzed in a diving accident in 2010, which left him with only limited use of his arms but no movement in his hands and legs.

On Wednesday, however, doctors published a study in the journal Nature that said the 24-year-old had managed to regain control of his right hand and fingers, thanks to a technology called NeuroLife that reads and decodes electrical signals from the brain and send them to his usually non-functioning extremity.

© nature video

Doctors implanted Burkhart’s brain with a chip in 2014, and with NeuroLink’s help and continuous practice, Burkhart can control his hand and finger movements finely enough to pick up a bottle and pour it out, swipe a credit card and even play a videogame with the movements of individual fingers.

“This study marks the first time that a person living with paralysis has regained movement by using signals recorded from within the brain,”study author Chad Bouton of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York said in a press briefing. “This is an important result and finding as we try to pave the pathway to helping other patients in the future, patients not only living with spinal cord injury but who have experienced a stroke and maybe traumatic brain injury.”

© Kim Kyung-Hoon

The machine works by using computer-equipped machine-learning software that records activity in his motor cortex when he thinks of a certain action. The information is then correlated to desire movements, and a sleeve on Burkhart’s right arm stimulates his muscles into action.

Burkhart noted that the abilities that he regained from the system aided him enormously in getting through everyday tasks, and he hopes that the technology is one day used outside of a clinical setting, so that he can live a more independent life – the ultimate goal of the researchers.

“We’re hoping that this technology will evolve into a wireless system connecting brain signals and thoughts to the outside world to improve the function and quality of life for those with disabilities. One of our major goals is to make this readily available to be used by patients at home,” Dr. Ali Rezai, co-author of the study and a neurosurgeon at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, said in a statement. “Ten years or so ago were not able to do this. Just imagine what we will be able to do 10 years from now.”

Brain Implant Helps Paralyzed Man Control His Hand Again Using Just His Thoughts.


An Ohio man who was paralyzed from the mid-torso down after a diving accident six years ago has now regained “functional movement” of his right hand, according to results of a clinical study published online today in the journal “Nature.”

Ian Burkhart, 24, can now swipe a credit card, stir coffee and even play a video game similar to “Guitar Hero” — all thanks to unprecedented “neural bypass technology” that essentially intercepts Burkhart’s “thoughts and brain signals” and “bypasses his injured spinal cord,” according to a statement from Batelle, the company that invented the experimental device called NeuroLife in partnership with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

A pea-sized microchip implanted inside Burkhart’s brain picks up his brain waves, which are then decoded by computer software and routed to a sleeve on his hand that stimulates certain muscles on his arm and hand, the company said.

“We’re showing for the first time that a quadriplegic patient is able to improve his level of motor function and hand movements,” Dr. Ali Rezai, a co-author of the study and a neurosurgeon at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, said in a statement.

Burkhart actually first demonstrated the technology successfully in June 2014 when he was able to “open and close his hand simply by thinking about it,” but the new study details the more “sophisticated movements” he’s now capable of, thanks to technical improvements.

PHOTO: Swiping a credit card was something Ian Burkhart never thought he would do again. Burkhart was paralyzed from the shoulders down after a diving accident in 2010, but regained functional use of his hand through the use of neural bypass technology.

PHOTO: Ian Burkhart, 24, plays a guitar video game as part of a study into neural bypass technology that allowed him to regain functional use of his paralyzed hand. Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center/Battelle
Ian Burkhart, 24, plays a guitar video game as part of a study into neural bypass technology that allowed him to regain functional use of his paralyzed hand.more +

The 24-year-old can now pick up a spoon, hold a phone to his ear and do other finer-motor tasks with his hands and fingers “that really help give him the independence a lot of paralyzed people are looking for,” according to Nick Annetta, electrical engineering task lead for Battelle’s team on the project.

“We’ve talked to a lot of patients in his condition, and of all the things they want back, most say it’s not necessarily to be able to walk again but actually to use their hands again,” Annetta told ABC News today.

Annetta said that the technology Burkhart is using is the first of its kind to reanimate the patient’s actual muscle rather than a robotic limb.

But despite the “huge advancements” that Burkhart and the neural bypass tech have made in the past few years, it still might be a while before the tech gets approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a product that people with spinal cord injuries can obtain and take home, Annetta said.

PHOTO: Patient Ian Burkhart, seated, poses with members of the research team. from left, Dr. Ali Rezai and Dr. Marcie Bockbrader of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Nick Annetta of Battelle during a neural bypass training session.Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center/Battelle
Patient Ian Burkhart, seated, poses with members of the research team. from left, Dr. Ali Rezai and Dr. Marcie Bockbrader of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Nick Annetta of Battelle during a neural bypass training session.more +

He explained that since the device isn’t developed enough nor approved to take home yet for studies, Burkhart can only use it during studies at the clinic, where he comes in twice a week for a few hours.

Despite this fact, Burkhart wanted to participate and give his time to this study because he felt it was his “obligation to society,” he said in a statement.

“Participating in this research has changed me in the sense that I have a lot more hope for the future now,” Burkhart said. “I always did have a certain level of hope, but now I know, first-hand, that there are going to be improvements in science and technology that will make my life better.”

DARPA’s latest project? A brain implant capable of restoring lost memories


File photo - A laboratory assistant holds one hemisphere of a healthy brain in the Morphological unit of psychopathology in the Neuropsychiatry division of the Belle Idee University Hospital in Chene-Bourg near Geneva in a March 14, 2011 file photo. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/files)

File photo – A laboratory assistant holds one hemisphere of a healthy brain in the Morphological unit of psychopathology in the Neuropsychiatry division of the Belle Idee University Hospital in Chene-Bourg near Geneva in a March 14, 2011 file photo.

Any time a new technology is either backed by President Obama or developed by DARPA, you know it’s serious business. But if something is backed by Obamaand developed by DARPA, that’s when you know to really take notice — and the government’s new Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program is just that. Freshly announced by DARPA, the project’s goal is to create an implantable neural-interface designed to restore lost memories in those suffering traumatic brain injuries.

As stated by DARPA in its recent press release, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) affect roughly 1.7 million civilians each year and an astounding 270,000 military servicemembers since 2000. Further, TBI has shown to impair one’s ability to recall memories created before suffering the injury while also limiting the capability to form new ones after. With the RAM program, DARPA intends to expedite the process of developing tech designed to bridge the gaps created in injured brains. In other words, TBI sufferers may not have to worry about lost memories if DARPA has its way.

The RAM program, which is part of Obama’s broader BRAIN Initiative, aims to accomplish this memory-saving goal by performing two steps. First, DARPA hopes to create a multi-scale computational model that describes how neurons code memories. Assuming it can gather the necessary data, DARPA’s next step is to create a neural-interface armed with the ability to bridge memory flow gaps created in the brain after a traumatic injury. The implant would essentially stimulate the desired target in the brain to help it restore its ability to create new memories.

Related: Construction is nearly complete on DARPA’s crazy submarine-hunting drone

DARPA says it plans on working with a number of human volunteers for its clinical trials and also intends to run studies of the tech with animals. For the volunteers, it’s targeting individuals with traumatic brain injuries who have trouble encoding or recalling memories, as well as those with other neurological conditions scheduled to undergo neurosurgery. Moreover, DARPA already has the insight of a relative Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications panel for supplemental information regarding human and animal trials of this nature.

“As the technology of these fully implantable devices improves, and as we learn more about how to stimulate the brain ever more precisely to achieve the most therapeutic effects, I believe we are going to gain a critical capacity to help our wounded warriors and others who today suffer from intractable neurological problems” DARPA’s biological technologies program manager Justin Sanchez tells Popular Science.

No official timetable was given regarding the release of the RAM program’s test results, though DARPA did say it had already begun administering trials since September. If all goes according to plan, the agency intends to expand the context of its research to those outside of the military who also experience brain trauma.

US Defence scientists have invented a brain implant that boosts memory.


The more forgetful among us might soon have access to brain implants that can help jog our memories, if new technology developed by the US Defence Force becomes more widely adopted. New electric array brain implants are reportedly “showing promise” in assisting people who are trying to dig up memories from the farthest reaches of their minds.

The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) team is primarily concerned with assisting those who have suffered from traumatic brain injuries, rather than people who tend to leave the house without picking up their house keys, but the process could be applied across the board, they say. “Everyone has had the experience of struggling to remember long lists of items or complicated directions to get somewhere,” explains program manager Justin Sanchez, in a press release. “Today we are discovering how implantable neurotechnologies can facilitate the brain’s performance of these functions.”

What makes the new process so innovative is the way it ‘reads’ the neural processes of the brain – it can see how our minds form and retrieve memories, and is even able to predict when our powers of recall are about to let us down. Sanchez says his team is looking at when the optimum moment for electrical stimuli really is: when the memories are formed, when the memories are recalled, or somewhere in between.

The team placed small electrode arrays in the areas of the brain known to be responsible for the formation of declarative memory – used for short and simple memories like lists – spatial memory, and navigation. The volunteers enlisted in the study were not suffering from memory problems in particular, but had been scheduled to undergo brain surgery for other neurological issues. When tested, their powers of recall were improved.

Full details of the study are being withheld pending a peer review and publication in a scientific journal, but some results have already been presented at a technology forum hosted by DARPA itself, as Troy Oakes from The Vision Times reports. “We still have a lot to learn about how the human brain encodes declarative memory, but these early experiments are clarifying issues such as these and suggest there is great potential to help people with certain kinds of memory deficits,” Sanchez told him.

DARPA scientists are also looking at ways the brain can be stimulated to aid learning as well as improve memory recall. We already know that ‘replaying’ a particular skill in our mind’s eye can help us to learn it, and later this year the agency is going to begin trying to map out these replay processes as they happen in the brain.

Brain implant that decodes intention will let us probe free will .


Imagine a world where you think of something and it happens. For instance, what if the moment you realise you want a cup of tea, the kettle starts boiling?

That reality is on the cards, now that a brain implant has been developed that can decode a person’s intentions. It has already allowed a man paralysed from the neck down to control a robotic arm with unprecedented fluidity.

But the implications go far beyond prosthetics. By placing an implant in the area of the brain responsible for intentions, scientists are investigating whether brain activity can give away future decisions – before a person is even aware of making them. Such a result may even alter our understanding of free will.

Fluid movement

“These are exciting times,” says Pedro Lopes, who works at the human-computer interaction lab at Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany. “These developments give us a glimpse of an exciting future where devices will understand our intentions as a means of adapting to our plans.”

The implant was designed for Erik Sorto, who was left unable to move his limbs after a spinal cord injury 12 years ago. The idea was to give him the ability to move a stand-alone robotic arm by recording the activity in his posterior parietal cortex – a part of the brain used in planning movements.

“We thought this would allow us to decode brain activity associated with the overall goal of a movement – for example, ‘I want to pick up that cup’,” Richard Andersen at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena told delegates at the NeuroGaming Conference in San Francisco earlier this month.

Two tiny electrodes implanted in Sorto’s posterior parietal cortex were able to record the activity of hundreds of individual neurons. After some training, a computer could match patterns of activity with Sorto’s intended movement. Once this neuronal information had been collected, a computer translated Sorto’s intentions into movements of a robotic arm. This enabled him to control the speed and trajectory of the arm, so he could shake hands with people, play rock, paper, scissors and swig a beer at his own pace.

Read more about Sorto’s implant hereMovie Camera.

Desires laid bare

The breakthrough raises the tantalising possibility of using other intentions decoded from brain activity to control our environment. For example, could we identify the pattern that corresponds to the thought of wanting to watch a film, then have that switch on the television?

To investigate the feasibility, Andersen’s team had a person with a similar implant to Sorto’s play a version of the prisoner’s dilemma, where players can either collaborate or double-cross one another. The team was able to predict the volunteer’s decision based on the neural activity the implant recorded. This showed that more abstract decisions such as, in this case, the intention to snitch on a hypothetical partner, can indeed be decoded from the posterior parietal cortex.

Ori Cohen from the Advanced Virtuality Lab at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, says that using abstract commands for brain-computer interfacesMovie Camera is a promising idea. “After all, this is how we control our body – we have a goal such as getting coffee and our brain kick-starts a range of processes involving complex geometrical computations in order to achieve it,” he says.

Eventually, he believes that a person with paralysis could imagine themselves making a cup of coffee and have a humanoid robot automatically carry out the action. He is hopeful that such approaches could one day be achieved using non-invasive techniques, such as recording brain activity with an EEG headset, rather than having to embed electrodes in the brain.

Probing free will

Others are not so sure. “It’s hard to get really high-quality brain signals with non-invasive technology,” says Jörn Diedrichsen, a neuroscientist at University College London. He thinks this might be off-putting to those who have no medical need to link up with their environment. “You have to ask whether you’d want to have invasive surgery to not have to press a button on a remote control,” he says. “It might be technically possible in five to 10 years, but would you do it?”

The most intriguing aspect of Andersen’s work, he says, is that we are now able for the first time to record the brain activity underlying intentions while asking about a person’s conscious experience. For example, Andersen’s team has already started to repeat classic free will experiments in which researchers try to use brain activity to predict a person’s decisions before they are consciously aware of making any.

“We will be able to look carefully into big philosophical questions of whether a person’s future decisions can be decoded from their neural activity before the individual is aware of having formed them – and what that all means for our ideas on free will,” says Diedrichsen. “It really captures the imagination.”

Journal reference: Science, doi.org/4tp

Mind control in your living room

(Image: FOC.US)

As our ability to decode brainwaves improves, the market for mind-reading devices that can be used at home is growing. Some estimates predict this market could be worth as much as $6 billion by 2020. At the NeuroGaming Conference in San Francisco this month, companies were showing off a range of devices – scientifically validated to varying degrees.

An example is NeuroMage – one of the first computer games to harness the power of the mind to control a character using an EEG headset. Players must use certain kinds of thoughts to build up an armoury of spells to cast on opponents.

If you have trouble concentrating, MUSE might be more up your street. This app, combined with an EEG headset, teaches you to focus your attention using brain training exercises, and promises to improve your emotional well-being. The system is being tested by several US universities.

Then there’s Foc.us EDGE – the world’s first brain stimulation device aimed at improving your fitness. It involves a portable headset that sends a low current to the temporal lobe. The idea comes from astudy in which professional cyclists showed a 4 per cent improvement in stamina when they received a similar kind of stimulation. The researchers involved – who have not endorsed any Foc.us product – suggest that stimulating the temporal lobe can affect how difficult a workout feels.

While there is no evidence to suggest that short bursts of stimulation can damage the brain, many researchers at the conference were still wary of such devices, since they do not need to be approved by medical regulators.

Pentagon’s DARPA works on reading brains in real time.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is investing $70 million to develop a new implant that can track, and respond to, brain signals in real time.

The goal of the new project, dubbed “Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies” (SUBNETS), is to gather new information via more advanced brain implants in order to reach the next level of effective neuropsychological treatment. DARPA is hoping to have the new implant developed within five years.

AFP Photo/Miguel Medina

Already, roughly 100,000 people worldwide live with a Deep Brain Stimulation implant, a device that helps patients cope with Parkinsons disease. While scientists are currently studying the possibility of using these devices to combat other diseases, the problem is current technology can only treat symptoms, not record the brain’s signals or analyze the effectiveness of any administered treatment.

“There is no technology that can acquire signals that can tell [scientists] precisely what is going on with the brain,” Justin Sanchez, DARPA’s program manager, told the New York Times.

The SUBNETS  program intends to change the current landscape significantly. Not only does DARPA want to map out exactly how diseases establish themselves in an individuals brain, the agency also wants its implant to be able to record the signs of illness in real time, deliver treatments, and monitor the treatment’s effectiveness.

Considering the toll that mental illnesses are taking on military veterans, there’s a new level of urgency surrounding the ambitious initiative. Ten percent of servicemembers receiving treatment from the Veteran’s Health Administration are being treated for mental health conditions or substance abuse, and mental disorders are now the primary reason for hospital bed stays.

“If SUBNETS is successful, it will advance neuropsychiatry beyond the realm of dialogue-driven observations and resultant trial and error into the real of therapy driven by quantifiable characteristic of neural state,” Sanchez said on DARPA’s website. “SUBNETS is a push toward innovative, informed and precise neurotechnological therapy to produce major improvements in quality of life for servicemembers and veterans who have very few options with existing therapies.”

The new project is part of President Obama’s BRAIN initiative, which sets aside $100 million in its first year to develop new innovations in neuroscience. DARPA is collaborating with the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation on SUBNETS, and it is currently soliciting proposals from various research teams.

Whether the agency can actually achieve its goal in five years is a question mark – one neuroscientist told the New York Times that, like nearly all DARPA projects, it’s “overambitious” – but new discoveries concerning how the brain functions are expected regardless. Whether the implant itself becomes a reality or not, Sanchez said that new medical devices will be developed as a result.

“We’re talking about a whole systems approach to the brain, not a disease-by-disease examination of a single process or a subset of processes,” Sanchez said. “SUBNETS is going to be a cross-disciplinary, expansive team effort and the program will integrate and build upon historical DARPA research investments.”

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