Now There’s a Way Around Paralysis: “Neural Bypass” Links Brain to Hand

Doctors couldn’t fix Ian Burkhart’s spinal cord injury. So engineers figured out a way around it.

Their “neural bypass” system uses a brain implant to record the electrical signals generated when Burkhart tries to move one of his paralyzed hands. Those signals are decoded by a computer and routed to an electronic sleeve that stimulates Burkhart’s forearm muscles in precise patterns. The result looks surprisingly simple and natural: When Burkhart thinks about picking up a bottle, he picks up the bottle. When he thinks about playing a chord in Guitar Hero, he plays the chord.

et the technology at work is far from simple. The achievement, reported today in Nature, caps a decade of research on brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) for paralyzed people. In 2006, a quadriplegic man used a brain implant to control the movements of a computer cursor; six years later a quadriplegic woman used an implant to control a robotic arm, which she used to independently bring a coffee drink to her lips. Meanwhile, …[Read more]