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AI Brain Implant Helps Patient Regain Both Feeling and Movement

A patient regained feeling and movement through an AI brain implant
A patient regained feeling and movement through an AI brain implant. Credit: NIH Image Gallery / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

In 2020, Keith Thomas, a resident of New York, experienced a severe driving accident that led to injuries in his C4 and C5 vertebrae, resulting in a complete loss of sensation and movement from his chest down.

Thanks to advanced AI brain implant technology developed by Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine, Thomas has regained the ability to move his arm voluntarily and feel his sister’s touch.

Complex surgery to implant microchips

The research team extensively examined Thomas’s brain in order to understand it better. They used MRIs for months to precisely identify the specific areas responsible for arm movements and the sense of touch in his hands.

Then, about four months ago, surgeons performed a complex fifteen-hour surgery to implant microchips into his brain.

Remarkably, during some parts of the procedure, Thomas remained awake so that he could communicate the sensations he experienced in his hand as the surgeons worked on different areas of his brain.

This groundbreaking achievement offers a promising glimpse into the potential of AI-driven medical advancements, giving hope to individuals with spinal injuries and other debilitating conditions.

With continued research and development, such technology may pave the way for improved treatment options and better quality of life for patients like Keith Thomas.

Thought-driven therapy

During the same procedure, the research team also installed external ports on the top of Keith Thomas’s head alongside the microchips in his body.

These ports are connected to a computer equipped with specially developed artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. The purpose of these algorithms is to interpret Keith’s thoughts and translate them into actions.

The researchers have named this innovative approach “thought-driven therapy,” as it relies on the patient’s intentions as a starting point. For instance, when Keith thinks about wanting to move his hand, the brain implant sends signals to the computer.

Subsequently, the computer sends signals to electrode patches placed on his spine and hand muscles, effectively stimulating movement.

To ensure a comprehensive sensory experience, the team also attached sensors to Keith’s fingertips and palms. These sensors play a vital role in stimulating the sensation in his hands.

This cutting-edge technology demonstrates the potential of thought-driven therapy, offering new possibilities for patients like Keith who have suffered from spinal injuries and paralysis.

As he continues to recover and adapt to the system, this advancement could pave the way for exciting developments in medical science, bringing hope to countless individuals facing similar challenges.

Results of the new therapy

Thanks to this remarkable system, Keith Thomas achieved the ability to move his arm voluntarily and experience the sensation of his sister holding his hand while in the lab.

Although he needed to be connected to the computer during these milestones, the researchers noticed something promising. Even when the system was turned off, Thomas showed signs of recovery.

Since the study’s inception, Thomas’s arm strength has shown significant improvement, reportedly more than doubling in strength. Moreover, he can now feel new sensations in his forearm and wrist.

These positive developments provide hope for the future, as the team’s thought-driven therapy holds the potential to help him regain even more of his sense of touch and mobility.

As research continues, Thomas’s progress and advancements in thought-driven therapy could open doors to improved medical treatments and life-changing breakthroughs for individuals facing similar challenges.

The positive outcomes witnessed so far give reason to be optimistic about the future possibilities this technology might bring.

Potential to help paralytic patients

Although there is still progress to be made, the team leading this innovative approach is filled with hope about its potential to transform the lives of individuals living with paralysis. Chad Bouton, the mastermind behind this technology and the principal investigator of the clinical trial, shared his thoughts:

“Our goal is to use this technology one day to give people living with paralysis the ability to live fuller, more independent lives.”

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