Some days there just isn’t any important news around. No Doctor Strange trailers, no important musings about Viggo Mortensen. Some days all you get is a quadriplegic man being able to use his fingers and hand for the first time in six years thanks to science.
Ian Burkhart, 24, from Ohio was seriously injured in an accident which damaged his spinal cord and hampered his brain’s ability to communicate with the rest of his body. As a result he could no longer move anything below the elbows. That is until researchers at Ohio State University came along with a device called a neural bypass. The neural bypass, developed by Columbus-based charity Battelle, works by receiving signals from a chip planted in Mr Burkhart’s motor cortex and feeding the raw data into a computer, which then interprets this and passes the information along in the form of electrical pulses that bypass the damaged spinal cord and go straight to an electronic sleeve worn by Mr Burkhart, where electrodes send impulses to the muscles in his hand and fingers, allowing Mr Burkhart to perform movements corresponding to the thoughts transmitted from his brain.
And if that last sentence makes you want to douse yourself in cold water and wander around the room, staring gormlessly into space while trying to reach a conclusion then let me save you the trouble: no, this isn’t a dream; yes, you are living in the future.
The doctors who made this possible published their research in Nature, and each one of them now has access to one hell of an exclusive pick-up line: ‘Hey, do you come here often? That’s nice. By the way did you know I’m responsible for the first ever case of limb reanimation?’
Two huge hurdles that had to be overcome to reach this milestone (apart from the brain-melting amount of work and research required to develop the technology in the first place, obviously). One was locating the exact spot in Mr Burkhart’s motor cortex, and the other was learning how to use the neural bypass, which Mr Burkhart describes as quite the arduous task:
Initially we’d do a short session and I’d feel mentally fatigued and exhausted, like I’d been in a six or seven hour exam. For 19 years of my life I took it for granted: I think and my fingers move. But with more and more practise it became much easier. It’s second nature.” “The first time I moved my hand, I had that flicker of hope knowing that this is something that’s working, I will be able to use my hand again. Right now, it’s only in a clinical setting, but with enough people working on it, and enough attention, it can be something I can use outside of the hospital, at my home and outside my home, and really improve the quality of my life.
The team of doctors and researchers would like to now be looking at ways to make the system more advanced and portable, but unfortunately, as the New York Times reports, funding for the project is set to run out this year.
That’s going to be difficult, because I’ve enjoyed it so much. If I could take the thing home, it would give me so much more independence. Now, I’ve got to rely on someone else for so many things, like getting dressed, brushing my teeth — all that. I just want other people to hear about this and know that there’s hope. Something will come around that makes living with this injury better.
Hey, Mr Government!
Spend more money on science! Maybe some of that 3 trillion dollars that was thrown at destroying Iraq could’ve found a better home.
Here be a video: