A Swiss man who became paralyzed after a fall on ice has regained movement through a groundbreaking surgery using brain implants and artificial intelligence. The 46-year-old man had an implant placed in his brain that uses AI to read his thoughts and intentions to move. This information is then transferred to a second implant in his abdomen, which stimulates the appropriate muscles to make his body move as desired.
The technology behind this process is called “thought-driven movement,” developed by the Dutch company Onward. While it is still early to provide full results, the company is pleased to report that the technology has successfully reanimated the man’s paralyzed arms, hands, and fingers.
This breakthrough could be life-changing for the more than a quarter-million Americans who have some degree of paralysis due to spinal cord damage. The ability to regain movement even in small ways, such as opening and closing a hand, can greatly increase independence and quality of life.
The implantation surgery involves removing a small piece of bone and replacing it with a set of electrodes. The implant works wirelessly to activate spinal cord stimulation. Similar devices have been installed in a Dutch man who lost the use of his legs in a bike accident, allowing him to walk naturally again.
Though the implant does not produce perfect walking ability, the more the individual uses it, the more their body repairs itself. A Swiss neurosurgeon, Dr. Jocelyne Bloch, who performed the surgery, explains that nerve fibers start growing again with long-term use of the system. This discovery opens the door to regenerative medicine.
Restoring function to arms and hands is more challenging than restoring the ability to walk. The company behind the technology is working on refining the system to help individuals grasp objects and use their fingers.
There have been concerns about the potential misuse of thought-reading technology. However, the implant developed by Onward decodes only thoughts related to movement and does not invade individuals’ privacy or extract all their thoughts.
While there is still much to learn about the neural code, the progress made with these implants is promising. Trials will continue for the next several years, with plans to expand to more participants. If successful, the company hopes to obtain FDA approval and make the technology widely available.
The possibilities this technology offers for those living with paralysis are immense. It provides hope for a future where individuals can regain movement and independence, ultimately improving their overall quality of life.