March 25th, 2015
A neurobiology team at the University of Pittsburgh has given Jan Scheuermann the power to do something that a degenerative disease had taken away. Thanks to a brain-computer interface and a robotic arm she affectionately calls “Hector,” Jan is now able to feed herself, despite her paralysis.
In March 2012, Pitt School of Medicine in Pennsylvania performed an operation that outfitted areas of Scheuermann’s brain with two 6mm-square electrodes. The electrodes were designed to communicate signals from neurons normally associated with control of her right arm and hand.
Within days of the operation, Scheuermann was able to use the arm to touch her doctor’s hand. Three months later she displayed even more dexterity, mimicking most of the normal functions of a human arm.
The research team was pleased with her progress, but already devised additional goals for the brain-computer interface, including a two-way electrode system capable of feeding back data to the brain, to give the sensation of touch.
In the future, the device is hoped to be a fully implanted wireless system that would allow the user the strength to grip a doorknob or the sensitivity to cradle an egg.
Jan Scheuermann had only one goal from her first experience using the brain-computer interface and she was indeed successful. Jan’s goal: to feed herself a bite from a bar of chocolate.
Image: Sky News
Source: Collinger, J., Wodlinger, B., Downey, J., Wang, W., Tyler-Kabara, E., Weber, D., McMorland, A., Velliste, M., Boninger, M., & Schwartz, A. (2012). High-performance neuroprosthetic control by an individual with tetraplegia The Lancet DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61816-9