Johns Hopkins researchers have implanted electrodes in both sides of the brain of a person who is mostly paralyzed — with minimal sensation in his hands — to enable him to have some “mind control” of motorized prosthetic arms. Researchers say these efforts are believed to be the first demonstrations of success with bilateral sensorimotor intracortical implants, or brain-machine interfaces designed to power movement — but also to sense touch — in people with high spinal cord injuries.
“With this research, we’re learning more about how to augment the capacity for people with paralyzing disabilities to move their limbs or perform other activities they can’t typically do, just by thinking and sending neural instructions from the brain to sensors attached to their arms,” says Pablo Celnik, M.D., professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, neurology and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“Our Brain-Machine Interfaces studies have added substantially to evidence that it is possible to use both sides of the brain to control two prosthetic limbs at the same time,” Celnik says The Johns Hopkins scientists say the electrodes can remain implanted in the brain for up to five years, with minimal risk of brain or skin scarring. However, like any surgery, there is risk of infections or bleeding. The team’s next steps are to test more complex bilateral movements and improve the connection between touch sense and motor control.