AI helps restore movement, sensation in paralysed man

AI helps restore movement, sensation in paralysed man

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the field of medicine in many ways, but perhaps one of the most remarkable applications is the use of AI to restore movement and sensation in people who have been paralysed due to spinal cord injuries.

In a recent breakthrough, researchers at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research have successfully used double neural bypass technology to reconnect the brain and the body of a man who has been paralysed from the chest down following a diving accident in 2020.

The technology involves implanting microchips into the patient's brain and developing AI algorithms that interpret his thoughts into actions, forming an electronic bridge that bypasses the damaged spinal cord. The microchips also stimulate the patient's spine and hand muscles to promote function and recovery.

The patient, Keith Thomas, 45, is the first human to benefit from this revolutionary technology. He has regained movement and sensations in his hand, arm, and wrist outside of the laboratory setting.

"There was a time that I didn’t know if I was even going to live or if I wanted to, frankly. And now, I can feel the touch of someone holding my hand. It’s overwhelming," Thomas said.

The procedure required months of preparation and a grueling 15-hour surgery, during which the surgeons implanted five microchips into Thomas' brain. Two chips were inserted in the area responsible for movement and three more in the part of the brain responsible for touch and feeling in the fingers.

The research team also used functional MRI scans to map Thomas' brain and identify the areas responsible for arm movement and sensation. This information guided the surgeons during the surgery and helped them calibrate the AI algorithms.

"When the study participant thinks about moving his arm or hand, we ‘supercharge’ his spinal cord and stimulate his brain and muscles to help rebuild connections, provide sensory feedback, and promote recovery," explained Chad Bouton, professor in the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes.

The technology is based on decades of research on brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), which allow direct communication between the brain and external devices. BCIs have been used to control robotic arms, prosthetic limbs, computer cursors, and even virtual reality avatars.

However, this is the first time that a BCI has been combined with electrical stimulation to restore both movement and sensation in a paralysed person.

The researchers hope that their technology will help other people living with paralysis or impaired movement due to spinal cord injuries, strokes, or neurodegenerative diseases.

"This breakthrough clinical trial offers hope to over a hundred million people worldwide living with some form of movement impairment or paralysis," Bouton said.

The trial is ongoing and the researchers plan to enroll more participants and test the long-term safety and efficacy of the technology.

The study was published in the journal Nature on July 31, 2023.


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How does a paralyzed man walk again?

The new technique involved placing two implants on Oskam's brain. When he wants to move, the implants read his brain signals and send that information to sensors on a helmet-like device on his head, per BBC News' Pallab Ghosh.

लकवाग्रस्त आदमी फिर कैसे चलता है?

नई तकनीक में ओस्कम के मस्तिष्क पर दो प्रत्यारोपण शामिल थे। बीबीसी न्यूज़ के पल्लब घोष के अनुसार, जब वह हिलना चाहता है, तो इम्प्लांट उसके मस्तिष्क के संकेतों को पढ़ते हैं और उस जानकारी को उसके सिर पर हेलमेट जैसे उपकरण पर लगे सेंसर को भेजते हैं।

Is it possible to recover from paralysis?

There isn't a cure for permanent paralysis. The spinal cord can't heal itself. Temporary paralysis like Bell's palsy often goes away over time without treatment. Physical, occupational and speech therapy can accommodate paralysis and provide exercises, adaptive and assistive devices to improve function.

How technology helps a paralyzed man walk?

Gert-Jan Oskam, 40, was able to walk after being paralyzed using a "wireless interface" between his brain and spinal cord. Then, with the help of AI, the researchers built what they call a "digital bridge" between his brain and spine, bypassing his injuries, and essentially putting his thought into action.

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