- Surgeons have implanted a novel neural prosthesis into a paralyzed patient’s brain. The high-tech device enables the patient to communicate his thoughts to a computer, which translates them into spoken words.
- Nine people so far have received brain-implanted prostheses. In the past, patients have used these devices to spell words on a computer, pilot a wheelchair or flex a mechanical hand.
- One day implants may enable paralyzed people to move robotic arms or even bypass damaged parts of the nervous system to reanimate unresponsive limbs. In the meantime, the quest to develop implanted neural prostheses is revealing details of how the brain orchestrates movement.
Eight years ago, when Erik Ramsey was 16, a car accident triggered a brain stem stroke that left him paralyzed. Though fully conscious, Ramsey was completely paralyzed, essentially “locked in,” unable to move or talk. He could communicate only by moving his eyes up or down, thereby answering questions with a yes or a no.
Ramsey’s doctors recommended sending him to a nursing facility. Instead his parents brought him home. In 2004 they met neurologist Philip R. Kennedy, chief scientist at Neural Signals in Duluth, Ga. He offered Ramsey the chance to take part in an unusual experiment. Surgeons would implant a high-tech device called a neural prosthesis into Ramsey’s brain, enabling him to communicate his thoughts to a computer that would translate them into spoken words.
This article was originally published with the title Putting Thoughts into Action.