A lame man can play Guitar Hero again after his sense of touch has been restored with a brain-computer interface (BCI) that provides sensory feedback.
Ian Burkhart, 28, suffered a severe spinal cord injury during a diving accident in 2010, causing him to lose his sense of touch.
American researchers found that, although Burkhart had almost no sensation in his hand, but did not stimulate his skin, a small neural signal still reached his brain.
They have since used their BCI to restore sensation in his hand by turning these tiny signals from the brain to the muscles, through its damaged spinal cord.
Ian Burkhart (left) is a 28-year-old man who suffered a back injury from a diving accident in 2010. Since 2014, Burkhart has been collaborating with researchers on a project called NeuroLife that aims to restore the function to his right arm
The device uses a system of electrodes on & # 39; skin and a small computer chip implanted in & # 39; a motor cortex of & # 39; brain.
The BCI detects the otherwise unrecognized touch signals, which then improves and sends them to the head as sensory feedback, resulting in improved movement.
Burkhart now has enough control over his arm and hand to lift a coffee cup, sweep a credit card and play his favorite video game one more time.
& # 39; We take subperceptual touch events and encourage them to a conscious perception, & # 39; said Dr. Patrick Ganzer, chief research scientist at Battelle, a scientific and technological research center in Columbus, Ohio that & # 39; s working on the project.
& # 39; When we did this, we saw several functional improvements. It was a great eureka moment when we & # 39; re first recovering the sense of touch from & # 39; the participant. & # 39;
The system of electrodes on Ian's skin detects the small neural signals, which are otherwise so bad that they cannot be observed
Researchers use brain computer interface (BCI) technology to restore sensation in the hand of someone who is paralyzed with a smart spinal cord injury
Dr Ganzer said the loss of sensation in Burkhart's right hand since his accident meant he had to use his eyes to track where his hand came in contact.
& # 39; Until now, Ian sometimes has the feeling that his hand was strange due to lack of sensory feedback, & # 39; said Dr. Ganzer.
& # 39; He also has trouble controlling his hand unless he is watching his movements closely.
& # 39; This requires a lot of concentration and makes simple multitasking like drinking a soda while watching TV almost impossible. & # 39;
Since 2014, Burkhart has been working with the team on the project, called NeuroLife, to restore function to his right arm.
Advances in the BCI system allow Burkhart to detect reliably by touching alone – in the future this can be used to find and record an object without seeing it. The system is also the first BCI that allows for simultaneous restoration of movement and touch
People like Burkhart are considered a & # 39; clinically complete & # 39; spinal cord injury – however, almost always a few lumps of nerve fibers remain intact.
Although Burkhart had almost no sensation in his hand when scientists stimulated Battelle's skin, a small but imperceptible neural signal still came to his brain.
The mission was to raise the signals to the level where the brain would respond.
The new system allows the excitation signals that Burkhart's skin returns to his brain to travel through artificial haptic feedback that he can detect.
Although Burkhart had almost no sensation in his hand when researchers stimulated his skin, a neural signal – so small that his brain could not detect it – still reached his brain.
Haptic feedback is equal to vibrations from mobile phones as well as game controllers, allowing the user to feel that something is working.
The haptic feedback means that Burkhart can now reliably detect something by touching alone and has enough control over his arm to enjoy daily activities.
In the future, the system may allow the ability to find and retrieve an object without seeing it.
& # 39; It has been great to see the capabilities of sensory information that & # 39; s coming from a device originally designed to only control my hand in one direction, & # 39; said Burkhart.
The subpersonal touch signals were artificially returned to Burkhart using haptic feedback. Common examples of haptic feedback are the vibration of a mobile phone or game controller allowing the user to feel that something is working
The system can also mean how much pressure to use when handling an object or picking up something – for example, using a light touch when picking up a fragile object such as a paper bag, but a firmer grip when picking up something heavy , like a Guitar Hero Controller.
The researchers are working on creating a next-generation mantle with the required electrodes and sensors that can be easily put on and off.
They also hope to develop a BCI system that works well in the home and portable smaller systems that can be controlled by a tablet.
The findings are published in the journal Cell.
BCI'S RESTORE SENSORY ENGINE FEATURES OF TRANSLATING BRAIN SIGNALS IN COMMANDS
Brain computer interfaces (BCIs) are devices that provide communication paths between a user's brain and an external device.
BCI's get brain signals, analyze them, and translate them into commands that are forwarded to output devices that perform desired actions.
BCI's are not mind-read devices, but enable their users to act on the world by using brain signals instead of muscles.
The main purpose of BCI is to replace or restore useful function for people disabled by neuromuscular disorders, such as cerebral palsy, stroke, or spinal cord injury.
BCI technology is unable to speak to individuals and use their limbs to communicate again or to use devices to run and manipulate objects.
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