Date March 28, 2017
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With BrainGate-directed muscle stimulation, a man with paralysis moves his arm, hand anew

With the investigational BrainGate brain-computer interface and implanted muscle-stimulating electrodes, a man paralyzed from the shoulders down was able to use his arm and hand to eat, drink and perform other activities, according to new research in <em>The Lancet</em>.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] —New research describes how the BrainGate brain-computer interface, combined with a functional electronic stimulation* system implanted in the arm of a Cleveland man with quadriplegia, allowed him to move his arm and hand again to eat mashed potatoes, drink water from a mug and scratch his nose.

“For somebody who’s been injured eight years and couldn’t move, being able to move just that little bit is awesome to me,” said Bill Kochevar, 56, who lost the ability to move below his shoulders due to a spinal cord injury resulting from a bicycling accident. “It’s better than I thought it would be.”

A consortium of Cleveland-area institutions headed by BrainGate collaboration partner Case Western Reserve University led the research published in The Lancet. The BrainGate collaboration also includes Brown University, where the technology was born in the lab of Professor John Donoghue, the Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology at the Providence V.A. Medical Center (PVAMC), Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Stanford University.

BrainGate works by detecting neural signals acquired from electrodes implanted in the surface of the motor cortex of the brain. Those signals are translated by the collaboration’s algorithms into movement commands for assistive devices. In the new research, the movement commands were relayed to a functional electronic stimulation system that electrically stimulated Kochevar’s muscles, allowing him to bypass his injury and once again deliver his brain’s motion plan to his arm.

“It’s so inspiring to watch Mr. Kochevar move his own arm and hand just by thinking about it,” said Dr. Leigh Hochberg, a study co-author who directs the multisite BrainGate2 pilot clinical trial. He is a professor of engineering at Brown, a neurologist and director of the Center for Neurotechnology and Neurorecovery at MGH and director of the Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology center at PVAMC. “As an extraordinary participant in this research, he’s teaching us how to design a new generation of neurotechnologies that we all hope will one day restore mobility and independence for people with paralysis.”

Hochberg said there is more work to be done.

“While today’s exciting report was made possible by incredible team science and vital federal funding for fundamental, translational and clinical research, these are still just the first steps,” he said. “Watching him move his hand again reminds me of the enormous potential for research to provide the new insights and technologies that will reduce the burden of neurologic disease and restore function.”

John Simeral, research assistant professor of engineering at Brown, is another study co-author. The lead author is Case Western Assistant Professor Bolu Ajiboye.

[Editor’s note: CAUTION: Investigational Device. Limited by Federal Law to Investigational Use.]