Case Study

Giant Step Forward For Neural Bypass Technology

Giant Step Forward For Neural Bypass Technology

Ian Burkhart, a 26-year-old Dublin, Ohio native was paralyzed in a diving accident in 2010 that resulted in quadriplegia.  Three years after the accident he volunteered to participate in a study conducted by physicians and neuroscientists from The Ohio State University in coordination with Battelle researchers. 

Ohio State’s Dr. Ali Rezai implanted a tiny chip known as a Utah Array, manufactured by Blackrock Microsystems, into the left motor cortex of Burkhart’s brain. It serves as a listening device that captures neural activity in the part of Burkhart’s brain that governs hand movements.

In June of 2014, Burkhart first demonstrated the success of the neural bypass technology when he was able to open and close his formerly paralyzed hand by thinking about it. The Utah Array recorded neural impulses with a computer that decoded and recoded them and then to a sleeve around Burkhart’s forearm that created voluntary and functional control through electrical stimulation.

Since then, Burkhart has moved on to be able to perform many functional tasks such as swiping a credit card and playing video games. Though he can do a variety of tasks, they’ve been a fixed number of discrete movements—with a binary “off or on, black or white” amount of force, he hasn’t been able to modulate the amount of force exerted by his muscles. However, the Ohio State-Battelle team is proving that the next step toward functional control is achievable and their latest accomplishment takes science a step closer to realistically fixing paralysis.

A collaborative team of scientists and doctors from Battelle and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have recently published a peer-reviewed scientific paper in which they describe experiments that show a quadriplegic study participant smoothly controlling movement through a continuum of states and generating precise levels of force using a brain-computer interface.

For a system to be practical for everyday use, those who need it must have smooth control of muscle movements and force delivery. For instance, when picking up a paper cup, the user needs to exert enough force to lift the cup but not so much that they crush it. For natural fine motor control of paralyzed limbs, there must be a full range of willful, graded muscle control.

According to Battelle’s David Friedenberg, lead author of the paper, enabling users to precisely grade their muscle contractions expands the possible uses of technology and opens the door for handling delicate objects. 

 “Over that past three years, Ian has dramatically improved from initial rough movements of simple opening and closing of his hands, to much more fluid, sophisticated and precise movements of individual fingers,” said Dr. Rezai. “Ian is also able to perform dynamic movements with grasping and manipulating objects of different sizes and shapes with gradations in the force of his grip. This study demonstrates the significant potential and capabilities of brain computer interface technology to improve function and help patients with disabilities.”

Authors of this study include Battelle’s David Friedenberg, Gaurav Sharma, Michael Schwemmer, Andrew Landgraf, Nicholas Annetta, Mingming Zhang and Herb Bresler; Marcia Bockbrader, Ali Rezai and Jerry Mysiw from Ohio State and Chad Bouton from the Feinstein Institute.

About Battelle
Every day, the people of Battelle apply science and technology to solving what matters most. At major technology centers and national laboratories around the world, Battelle conducts research and development, designs and manufactures products, and delivers critical services for government and commercial customers. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio since its founding in 1929, Battelle serves the national security, health and life sciences, energy and environmental industries. For more information, visit www.battelle.org

About NeuroLife

Battelle has developed a breakthrough technology that empowers paralyzed patients to regain conscious control of their fingers, hand and wrist. The Battelle NeuroLife Neural Bypass Technology skips damaged areas of the nervous system to allow the brain to communicate directly with muscles.