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In a Medical First, Brain Implant Allows Paralyzed Man to Feel Again

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Robert Gaunt and Nathan Copeland

UPMC researcher Robert Gaunt (left) touches the finger of a robotic arm, causing Nathan Copeland, who has paralysis in all four limbs, to feel that sensation in his own finger.

Credit: UPMC

For the first time, a paralyzed man has regained his sense of touch via a thought-controlled robotic arm thanks to experiments conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). Electrodes implanted in the sensory cortex of Nathan Copeland's brain receive transmissions from the prosthesis so he can feel tactile sensation in his paralyzed right hand when the robot arm's fingers are pressed. Chips previously implanted in Copeland's brain link him to the arm so he can control its movements with his mind.

Enabling two-way feedback between a prosthetic limb and the patient's brain is critical if the appendage is to truly mimic a human limb's functionality, and electric stimulation of nerves in amputees' bodies facilitates control of artificial limbs, but not actual sensation. "With Nathan, he can control a prosthetic arm, do a handshake, fist bump, move objects around," says UPMC biomedical engineer Robert Gaunt. "And in this [experiment], he can experience sensations from his own hand. Now we want to put those two things together so that when he reaches out to grasp an object, he can feel it. He can pick something up that's soft and not squash it or drop it."

From The Washington Post
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