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Breakthrough brain chip gives paralyzed man use of hand

A paralyzed man has regained partial use of his right hand after a chip was implanted into his brain.

Ian Burkhart, 24, has been quadriplegic for the last 5 years after diving into shallow water. In a world first, electronic sensors have sent signals from his brain to his muscles, to allow him to hold cup, pick up a stick, pour a bottle, and even play the video game Guitar Hero.

Surgery was performed on Burkhart to implant a flexible chip that detects electrical activity in his brain when he thinks about moving his hand. A cable then transmits the signals to a computer, which in turn transmits electrical impulses that stimulate his muscles.

Lead researchers Chad Bouton, Ali Rezai and Nick Annetta said the effort took a multi-disciplinary team of scientists from neurosurgery to electrical engineering. They used technique involving reconnecting the brain to the body by bypassing the damaged spinal cord.

For the interface to work, Burkhart concentrates on the movement he wants to make, and a computer connected to the chip translates those signals into something his muscles understand.

The system was fine-tuned by Burkhart during up to three sessions a week for fifteen months after the surgery to implant the chip in the motor cortex region of his brain.