Tyler-Kabara performed the surgery, where two tiny electrode grids were placed in the area of the brain that would normally control the movement of the right hand and arm. The electrode points penetrate the brain's surface by about one-sixteenth of an inch.
"The idea is pretty scary," Tyler-Kabara acknowledged. But her team's patient had no complications from the surgery and left the hospital the next day. There've been no longer-term problems either, she said -- though, in theory, there would be concerns about infection or bleeding over the long haul.
The surgery left the patient with two terminals that protrude through her skull. The researchers used those to connect the implanted electrodes to a computer, where they could see brain cells firing when the patient thought about moving her hand.
She was quickly able to master simple movements with the robotic arm, like high-fiving the researchers. And after six months, she was performing "10-degrees-of-freedom" movements, Tyler-Kabara reported at the meeting.
That includes not only moving the arm, but also flexing and rotating the wrist, grasping objects and affecting several different hand "postures." She has accomplished feats like feeding herself chocolate.
The researchers initially used a computer in training sessions with the patient, but after that the robot arm is directly linked to the electrodes -- so there is no need for "computer assistance," according to Tyler-Kabara.
Still, before the technology can ultimately be used at home, she said, researchers have to devise a "fully implanted" wireless system for controlling the robot arm.
Another expert talked about the new technology.
"This is one more encouraging step toward developing something practical that people can use in their d
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