The small brain implant is slid deep into the folds of the brain and is used to gradually restore muscle control and sensation functionality for paralyzed patients. (Image credit: Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research)
Scientists from the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research have developed brain implant electrodes to provide muscle control and a regained sense of touch for patients paralyzed from brain and spinal injuries. In a pair of recently released scientific papers, the scientists found that their stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) electrodes can recode and decode the brain's activity, route the information to an external computer (instead of through the spinal cord), and stimulate the muscles directly. In essence, the brain implants bypass a damaged nervous system, allowing patients to control their limbs, in this case, the patient's fingers.
The system goes beyond controlling limbs, as it collects information about finger position and pressure and stimulates the sensory region in the brain to provide a sense of touch, movement, and action. The implants are inserted into the grooves (sulci) of the brain via a minimally invasive procedure performed by a neurosurgeon. The scientists recruited a pair of participants for the implant procedure, and after applying electrical stimulation, the participants reported a "tingling" sensation or a sensation of electricity localized to the hand and fingertips.
Using those same brain electrodes, the scientists recorded the neural signals during mechanical stimulation of the participants' hands. This allowed them to gain a better insight into the neural circuitry involved in processing touch-related sensations. The scientists recently got the go-ahead from the FDA (Food and Drug Agency) to begin clinical trials that test movements and sensations for paralyzed patients. Although the prospect of regaining movement and sensation in the limbs for those who are paralyzed is incredible, it will be some time before the procedure becomes widely available.
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