Scientists Restore Touch in Paralyzed Patient

Photo Credit: Brian Stauffer

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have restored sensations of touch in the hand and arm of a paralyzed man. This medical breakthrough means that in the future it will be possible for paralyzed people to feel physical feedback automatically. Instead of natural limbs, individuals would use robotic prosthetics combined with electric sensors, similar to the technology used by scientists at Caltech.  

The study’s participant had experienced a spinal cord injury three years ago and become paralyzed from the shoulders down. To restore feelings of movement, scientists surgically implanted tiny electrodes into his brain’s somatosensory cortex. Afterwards, small pulses of electricity were sent to the tiny electrodes (already implanted) to stimulate neural activity in that region of the participant’s brain. 

Photo Credit: Andersen Lab

“It was a lot of pinching, squeezing, movements, things like that. Hopefully it helps somebody in the future,” the participant told researchers. The participant also reported feeling all types of touch and movement, including tapping, squeezing, and upward motion. 

This medical breakthrough represents the very first time natural sensations have been triggered in a paralyzed person through intracortical neural stimulation or in simple terms, “brain zapping.”

The research was done in the laboratory of Richard Andersen, James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience, T&C Chen Brain-Machine Interface Center Leadership Chair, and director of the T&C Chen Brain-Machine Interface Center. To learn more about this study or the Andersen Lab, visit here.