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Person Paralyzed in Motorcycle Accident Participates in Prosthetic Arm Experiment

Motorcyclists are inevitably more vulnerable on the road than the drivers of cars or trucks. Bikers don't sit in an enclosed cab and aren't protected by air bags. If a motorcycle accident occurs, the injuries are often severe.

Fortunately, the types of therapy that are available to treat serious and catastrophic injuries continue to improve. One inspiring example is that of Tim Hemmes, a man who was paralyzed in a motorcycle crash seven years ago. Seeking to overcome his spinal cord injury, he is participating in an experimental program involving prosthetic arms controlled by a brain-computer interface.

Doctors and scientists at the University of Pittsburgh wanted to know whether someone with severe spinal cord damage could move an external object using their brain waves - as transmitted to a "virtual arm." The virtual arm is a prosthetic arm linked to brain waves by a computer.

To conduct the experiment, surgeons placed an electrocorticography grid in Hemmes's brain. More specifically, they placed this small chip (the size of a postage stamp) on the motor cortex area of the brain. They then ran wires under the skin from the chip to the shoulders, where it was attached to computer cables.

After several weeks of working with the medical research team, Hemmes was able to visualize moving a ball with the robotic arm. Amazingly, he was able to use the arm to complete the ball-moving task.

The scientists want to build on this success by conducting further tests of arm and hand motions. Wireless technology and electrical muscle stimulations devices may also hold out hope for paralyzed people to regain the ability to perform certain movements.

Source: "Moving a Robotic Arm With Just a Thought," PCWorld, 10-14-11

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