April 14, 2016
SALT LAKE CITY (April 14, 2016)—The technology of Blackrock Microsystems has been part of a medical sensation: 24-year-old Ian Burkhart, who is paralyzed from the shoulders down as a result of a diving accident when he was 19, managed to move his hand again.
Ian had been implanted Blackrock’s Utah Array by researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus who are working on reanimation technologies. The actual hand movement was made possible by Battelle’s neural bypass technology. Researchers led by Chad Bouton, formally at Battelle Memorial Institute and currently at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, have been working with Burkhart ever since, and now published their results on April 13 in Nature.
Blackrock’s Utah Array with 1.5 mm electrodes and the Neuroport neural data acquisition system were used for acquiring the data from Ian’s brain. With Blackrock’s matching Central software, the researchers could then analyze which motion Ian was imagining and then translated these signals to evoke the desired movement in his hand.
Ian’s brain has learned to coordinate the activity of his reanimated hand with muscles that he already has some control over. As a result of regular training sessions, Ian is now able to make isolated finger movements and perform six different wrist and hand motions, enabling him to, among other things, pick up a glass of water, and even play a guitar-based video game. His ability to maintain grip while moving objects has gradually improved, and this has been associated with significant changes in his brain activity. The algorithms developed by Bouton’s team register and adapt to such changes in brain activity — effectively learning with the patient and fine-tuning his movements.
Of course, there are still limitations. So far, the system can only be used in the laboratory. To make this success a real game changer for thousands of patients, technology has to become wireless. Blackrock is working on it – paving the way for the next scientific breakthrough.