ScienceDaily has a fascinating article about research being done to help paralyzed patients.
A multi-institutional team of researchers has found that people with long-standing, severe paralysis can generate signals in the area of the brain responsible for voluntary movement and these signals can be detected, recorded, routed out of the brain to a computer and converted into actions -- enabling a paralyzed patient to perform basic tasks.
Some of the first results of the clinical trial have just been published and they focus on the progress with a device called the BrainGate Neural Interface System. The BrainGate is a small device, about the size of a baby aspirin, and contains 100 tiny electrodes. When implanted, it's placed on the motor cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for voluntary movement.
The first patient, Matthew Nagle, a 25-year-old Massachusetts man with a severe spinal cord injury, has been paralyzed from the neck down since 2001. After having the BrainGate sensor implanted on the surface of his brain at Rhode Island Hospital in June 2004, he learned to control a computer cursor simply by thinking about moving it.
During 57 sessions, from July 2004 to April 2005, at New England Sinai Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, Nagle learned to open simulated e-mail, draw circular shapes using a paint program on the computer and play a simple video game, "neural Pong," using only his thoughts. He could change the channel and adjust the volume on a television, even while conversing. He was ultimately able to open and close the fingers of a prosthetic hand and use a robotic limb to grasp and move objects.
Other patients have not seen quite such positive results but it's still amazing to consider where this research is headed. The researchers hope that an improved device will one day be able to give paralyzed individuals the ability to control their limb muscles. That would certainly be a huge step in returning some of their freedom.