'One small nibble for a woman': The mind controlled robotic arm that could give the paralysed a new lease of life
Robotic limb hailed as a 'remarkable step forward'Has allowed patients paralysed from the neck down to feed themselves and even high five doctors
Uses electrodes implanted in the brain to 'drive' a robotic arm
11:14 GMT, 17 December 2012
A 52 year old woman paralysed from the neck down has been able to feed herself and even high five doctors using a groundbreaking new robotic arm controlled by electrodes implanted in her brain.
Jan Scheuermann was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder 13 years ago and is paralyzed from the neck down.
However, doctors at The university of Pittsburgh Medical Center were able to implant electrodes in her brain so she could operate the advanced robotic arm.
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Jan Scheuermann, a 52 year-old woman who was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder 13 years ago, using the arm to feed herself
Two electrodes implanted in her brain allow her to control the robotic arm far more accurately than with other systems
The electrodes were connected to the robotic hand via a computer that translates the signals from the brain
HOW IT WORKS
Doctors first used a real-time brain
scanning technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging to find
the exact part of the brain that lit up after the patient was asked to
think about moving her now unresponsive arms.
The electrodes were them implanted and connected to the
robotic hand via a computer.
Software was then able to translate the
signals to move the arm, mimicing the way an unimpaired brain controls healthy limbs.
Less than a year after she told the research team, 'I’m going to feed myself chocolate before this is over,' Ms. Scheuermann savored its taste and announced as they applauded her feat,
'One small nibble for a woman, one giant bite for BCI (Brain Controlled Interfaces).
'This is the ride of my life,' she said.
'This is the rollercoaster, this is skydiving – it’s just fabulous, and I’m enjoying every second of
Experts are calling it a remarkable step forward for prosthetics controlled directly by the brain.
'This is a spectacular leap toward greater function and independence for people who are unable to move their own arms,' said Professor Andrew Schwartz. who led the research.
'This technology, which interprets brain signals to guide a robot arm, has enormous potential that we are continuing to explore.
'Our study has shown us that it is technically feasible to restore ability; the participants have told us that BCI gives them hope for the future.'
Other systems have already allowed paralyzed patients to type or write in freehand simply by thinking about the letters they want.
And in the last month, researchers in Switzerland used electrodes implanted directly on the retina to enable a blind patient to read.
The development of brain-machine interfaces is moving quickly and scientists predict the technology could eventually be used to bypass nerve damage and re-awaken a person's own paralyzed muscles.
In the meantime, they say, systems like this could be paired with robotic 'exoskeletons' that allow paraplegics and quadraplegics to walk.
In the latest study, published in the Lancet, a research team from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center implanted two microelectrode devices into the woman's left motor cortex, the part of the brain that initiates movement.
Each of the hand's fingers can be moved independently by the software, allowing users to feed themselves, move in any direction and even write
ADVANCES IN ROBOTICS
Other systems have already allowed
paralyzed patients to type or write in freehand simply by thinking about
the letters they want.
in the last month, researchers in Switzerland used electrodes implanted
directly on the retina to enable a blind patient to read.
development of brain-machine interfaces is moving quickly and
scientists predict the technology could eventually be used to bypass
nerve damage and re-awaken a person's own paralyzed muscles.
the meantime, they say, systems like this could be paired with robotic
'exoskeletons' that allow paraplegics and quadraplegics to walk.
The medics used a real-time brain scanning technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging to find the exact part of the brain that lit up after the patient was asked to think about moving her now unresponsive arms.
The electrodes were connected to the robotic hand via a computer running a complex algorithm to translate the signals that mimics the way an unimpaired brain controls healthy limbs.
'These electrodes are remarkable devices in that they are very small,' Michael Boninger, who worked on the study, told Reuters.
'You can't buy them in Radio Shack.'
Boninger said the way the algorithm operates is the main advance.
Accurately translating brain signals has been one of the biggest challenges in mind-controlled prosthetics.
'There is no limit now to decoding human motion,” he said.
'It gets more complex when you work on parts like the hand, but I think that, once you can tap into desired motion in the brain, then how that motion is effected has a wide range of possibilities.'
It took weeks of training for Scheuermann to master control of the hand, but she was able to move it after two days, and over time she completed tasks – such as picking up objects, orientating them, and moving them to a target position – with a 91.6 percent success rate.
Her speed increased with practice.
The researchers plan to incorporate wireless technology to remove the need for a wired connection between the patient's head and the prosthesis.
'SIGN ME UP, I WANT TO DO THAT!'
In 1996, Jan Scheuermann was a
36-year-old mother of two young children, running a successful business
planning parties with murder-mystery themes and living in California
when one day she noticed her legs seemed to drag behind her.
Within two years, her legs and arms
progressively weakened to the point that she required a wheelchair, as
well as an attendant to assist her with dressing, eating, bathing and
other day-to-day activities.
After returning home to Pittsburgh in
1998 for support from her extended family, she was diagnosed with
spinocerebellar degeneration, in which the connections between the brain
and muscles slowly, and inexplicably, deteriorate.
'Now I can’t move my arms and legs at all. I can’t even shrug my
shoulders,” she said.
'But I have come to the conclusion that worrying
about something is experiencing it twice.
'I try to dwell on the good
things that I have.'
A friend pointed out an October 2011 video about another Pitt/UPMC BCI
research study in which Tim Hemmes, a Butler, Pa., man who sustained a
spinal cord injury that left him with quadriplegia, moved objects on a
computer screen and ultimately reached out with a robot arm to touch his
Jan Scheuermann, a 52 year-old woman who was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder 13 years ago and is paralyzed from the neck down, said the experience was 'like skydiving'
'Wow, it’s so neat that he can do that,' Ms. Scheuermann thought as she
'I wish I could do something like that.' She had her
attendant call the trial coordinator immediately, and said, 'I’m a
quadriplegic. Hook me up, sign me up! I want to do that!'
On Feb. 10, 2012, after screening tests to confirm that she was eligible
for the study, Dr Elizabeth
Tyler-Kabara, placed two quarter-inch
square electrode grids with 96 tiny contact points each in the regions
of Ms. Scheuermann’s brain that would normally control right arm and
Two days after the operation, the team hooked up the two terminals that
protrude from Ms. Scheuermann’s skull to the computer. 'We could
actually see the neurons fire on the computer screen when she thought
about closing her hand,' Dr. Collinger said. 'When she stopped, they
stopped firing. So we thought, ‘This is really going to work.'.
Within a week, Ms. Scheuermann could
reach in and out, left and right,
and up and down with the arm, which she named Hector, giving her
3-dimensional control that had her high-fiving with the researchers.
'What we did in the first week they thought we’d be stuck on for a
month,' she said.
Before three months had passed, she also could flex the wrist back and
forth, move it from side to side and rotate it clockwise and
counter-clockwise, as well as grip objects, adding up to what scientists
call 7D control.
In a study task called the Action Research Arm Test,
Ms. Scheuermann guided the arm from a position four inches above a table
to pick up blocks and tubes of different sizes, a ball and a stone and
put them down on a nearby tray.
She also picked up cones from one base
to restack them on another a foot away, another task requiring grasping,
transporting and positioning of objects with precision.
They also believe a sensory loop could be added that gives feedback to the brain, allowing the user to tell the difference between hot and cold, or smooth and rough surfaces.
'This bioinspired brain-machine interface is a remarkable technological and biomedical achievement,' said Grgoire Courtine at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, who was not involved in the study.
'Though plenty of challenges lie ahead, these sorts of systems are rapidly approaching the point of clinical fruition,' Courtine said in a comment piece in the Lancet linked to the study.
Although using technology to restore movement, sight or hearing in the disabled would for many seem uncontroversial, some disability rights groups and ethicists are wary.
They argue that restoring hearing, for instance, could fuel a prejudice that a deaf life is less rich, or less well lived.
Andy Miah, a professor at the University of the West of Scotland who has written extensively about human enhancement in the context of the Paralympics, says it is far from straightforward.
'For instance, a few years ago, there was a case of a deaf lesbian couple who sought to use in vitro fertilization to select for deafness.
Another patient in the test using the arm to high five a doctor
'They argued that absence of hearing is precisely not an impairment, but allows access to a rich community.'
The ethics become more complex with the prospect of using these technologies to enhance the able-bodied.
'It's quite likely that therapy is the back door to enhancement in these kinds of technological interventions,' says Miah.
'People will question whether this is desirable, but we already live in a society that tolerates such modifications.
'Laser eye surgery interventions have grown astronomically over the last decade and nobody complains that it is making people superhuman.'
For Jan Scheuermann, the experience has been transforming.
'It's given her a renewed purpose,' said Boninger.
'On the first day that we had her move the arm, there was this amazing smile of joy.
'She could think about moving her wrist and something happened.'
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