Battelle has announced that its team of scientists, doctors and researchers in collaboration with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has reported that a person with a clinically complete spinal cord injury (SCI) can use a brain-computer interface (BCI) to simultaneously reanimate motor function and sense of touch by using residual touch signaling from the subject’s hand, the company released on Friday.
“The notion that clinical completeness in spinal cord injury is very often neurophysiologically ‘discomplete’ acknowledges that activity in residual neural circuitry, in this study specifically ascending sensory pathway signals, can be detected and utilized to both augment motor function but also to restore sensory perception from below the level of injury,” said Dr. Keith Tansey, Professor of Neurosurgery and Neurobiology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Past President of the American Spinal Injury Association,
The results have analyzed years of data collected from the NeuroLifeTM program study. The participant, Ian Burkhart, suffered a spinal cord injury in 2010 when diving into the ocean, and has lived with paralysis in his hands and legs.
“When the chip was placed on the surface of Ian’s motor cortex in 2014, it was not known that the signals related to object touch could be observed because of the paralysis,” said lead author and Battelle Principal Research Scientist Patrick Ganzer. “Furthermore, Ian has a very severe SCI that should essentially block hand touch signals from even reaching the brain.
The analysis has shown that subperceptual touch prior to a spinal cord injury has affected Burkhart’s motor cortex even though there is essentially a block from the nerves in his arms and their connection back to the brain.
The subperceptual signal can be detected in the brain, rerouted via the brain-computer interface and sent back to a wearable haptic system to restore the sense of touch. “It has been amazing to see the possibilities of sensory information coming from a device that was originally created to only allow me to control my hand in a one-way direction,” said Burkhart.
Medical technologies will provide both movement and sensation back to their users and have the potential to improve independence. Battelle’s NeuroLife team will continue to work toward a take-home BCI system.
The system is aimed to assist individuals with tetraplegia and address the user needs by leveraging the knowledge gained in a five-year clinical study to provide technology options to these individuals to improve their everyday lives.
“This work represents an important milestone in the development of BCIs for restoring hand functions after SCI,” said Douglas Weber, co-investigator and Associate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. “Ian has demonstrated that by recovering even simple touch sensations, his ability to control his hand through BCI improves dramatically.”
Tansey said the work is important for people who have a spinal cord injury, and for those who care for them. “In this proof of principle report, the authors have leveraged on a rarely appreciated aspect of spinal cord injury to provide a novel and important advancement in neurological functioning using a brain-computer interface,” Tansey added.
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