Making A Move
Six years ago Ian Burkhart’s life changed forever after a diving accident damaged his spinal cord and left him paralysed below the elbows and unable to walk. But it seems his life is set to change once again after he was able to move his fingers again for the first time since his accident. It’s all thanks to a chip that has been implanted in his brain which is able to read brain signals, the activity of hundreds of neurons in his motor cortex. A computer interprets the signals and then stimulates Mr Burkhart’s muscles by using electricity to produce movement. By wearing a sleeve which has 130 electrodes implanted on it, Mr Burkhart is able to grasp and move large objects, pour the contents of a glass and even swipe a credit card. It has been a long process which, as the 24 year old explains, left him “completely and mentally fatigued and exhausted. You really have to break down each part of that motion and think about it in a more concentrated way. For the first 19 years of my life it was something I definitely took for granted.” Ian hopes to regain the full function of both his hands as “that allows you to be a lot more independent and not have to rely on people for simple day-to-day tasks”. While it is still early days, researchers hope the technology will eventually help restore movement for the millions who suffer from paralysis, brain damage or the effects of a stroke. As Mr Burkhart has shown they are off to a great start.