01 August 2023

Unique surgery restored movement and sensation in a paralyzed man

Using brain implants, artificial intelligence and electrical stimulation, a team of researchers, engineers and surgeons have developed a new 'double neural bypass' technology.

The "double neural bypass" technology has restored hand movement and sensitivity in a paralyzed man. It is hoped that it will also help other patients who have suffered from movement disorders or paralysis.

Keith Thomas' life changed on July 18, 2020, when he dove into a swimming pool, injuring his C4 and C5 vertebrae. The injury paralyzed him from the chest down and below. Now, thanks to a first-of-its-kind clinical trial, Thomas can move his arms and feel his sister holding his hand for the first time in three years.

A team of researchers, engineers and surgeons from Northwell Health's Feinstein Institute for Medical Research participated in the trial to restore Thomas' sensation and movement using the new approach.

They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map Thomas' brain. This is how they identified the areas responsible for the movement of his hand and the sensation of touching it. He then underwent a 15-hour open brain surgery to implant the implants. Thomas was woken up occasionally to give real-time feedback to the surgeons.

Thomas had five tiny microchips implanted in his brain, creating a dual nerve bypass system. It uses AI to decode and translate thoughts into actions. As well as stimulating the brain and spinal cord to restore movement and sensation in the arm.

For example, when Thomas thinks about compressing his arm, the electrical signals sent by his brain are decoded by the computer. It sends the signals to flexible, non-invasive electrodes placed over the spine and forearm muscles. They make the arm move. Sensors on his fingertips and palm send information about touch and pressure back to his brain, which registers the information as a sensation.

"This is the first time the brain, body and spinal cord have been linked electronically in a paralyzed person to restore prolonged movement and sensation," said Chad Bouton, principal investigator of the clinical trial.

Since the trial began, the strength in Thomas' arm has doubled and he has begun to feel sensation in his forearm and wrist, even when he is connected to the bypass system.

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