In Brief

Paralysed man plays Guitar Hero using mind control

Computer chip implant allows quadriplegic to move his hand and fingers for first time in six years

A quadriplegic in the US has become the first recipient of a brain implant allowing him to move his fingers again.

Ian Burkhart was left paralysed below his elbows and unable to walk following a diving accident six years ago.

Now, with the help of a computer chip implant and an electronic sleeve, he is able to grasp and move large objects and even play video game Guitar Hero. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_original","fid":"93480","attributes":{"class":"media-image"}}]]

The implant reads Burkhart's brain signals and decodes them using a computer before stimulating the muscles in his arm via the electrode-covered sleeve.

The system is imprecise and requires incredible levels of concentration from the 24-year-old from Ohio.

"Initially we'd do a short session and I'd feel mentally fatigued and exhausted, like I'd been in a six or seven-hour exam," said Burkhart.

"For 19 years of my life I took it for granted: I think and my fingers move. But with more and more practise it became much easier. It's second nature."

Despite the breakthrough, the new technology is not a cure for paralysis, says the New York Times. Burkhart can use his hand "only when connected to computers in the lab, and the researchers said there was much work to do before the system could provide significant mobile independence", reports the paper.

Nevertheless, Burkhart remained positive. "Right now, it's only in a clinical setting, but with enough people working on it and enough attention, it can be something I can use outside of the hospital, at my home and outside my home and really improve the quality of my life," he said.

The scientists' study, published in the science journal Nature, marks a significant moment in the field of using computers to bypass spinal cord injuries, says the BBC.

"This really provides hope, we believe, for many patients in the future as this technology evolves and matures to help people who have disabilities to allow them to be more functional and more independent," said Ali Rezai, the neurosurgeon who implanted the chip in Burkhart's brain.

"Ten years ago we couldn't do this. Imagine what we can do in another ten."

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