In what is being touted as a world first, a quadriplegic man has been given the ability to move his fingers and hand with his own thoughts thanks to the implantation of an electronic device in his brain and muscle stimulation sleeve. Part of a neurostimulation system dubbed “Neurobridge,” the technology essentially bypasses the damaged spinal cord and reconnects the brain directly to the muscles!
The Neurobridge system, which was developed by nonprofit R&D organization Battelle through work that began a decade ago, uses algorithms to effectively “learn” the user’s brain activity. The system decodes neural impulses from the brain and converts them into signals that are then transmitted to a specially-developed, high-definition electrode stimulation sleeve attached to the paralyzed limb. The sleeve then stimulates the correct muscles to perform the desired movements, with everything from thought to activity taking place within a tenth of a second.
“It’s much like a heart bypass, but instead of bypassing blood, we’re actually bypassing electrical signals,” said Chad Bouton, research leader at Battelle. “We’re taking those signals from the brain, going around the injury, and actually going directly to the muscles.”
Neurobridge is by no means the first system to implant electrodes in the body and bring hope to people suffering paralysis. In 2011, a man paralyzed from the chest downtook his first steps after a stimulating electrode array was implanted into his body. Instead of bypassing the nervous system, the implant provided continual direct electrical stimulation to the lower part of the spinal cord that controls movement of the hips, knees, ankles and toes, to mimic the signals the brain usually sends to initiate movement.
Other systems have used implanted electrodes to stimulate movement but Neurobridge is the only system so far to bypass the spinal cord and provide direct stimulation of a human patient’s muscles using their own thoughts.