For the first time, brain stimulation has made it possible for a paralyzed person to experience the sensation of touch via a bionic hand.
Robert Gaunt at the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his team achieved this by implanting electrodes in the brain of Nathan Copeland, a 28-year-old quadriplegic.
These were inserted into the region of the brain that registers touch from the hand, and linked to a robotic hand in the same room via a computer. When this robotic hand was touched, it triggered stimulation of Copeland’s brain. “He feels these sensations coming from his own paralyzed hand,” says Gaunt.
Gaunt now hopes to combine thought-controlled movement with an artificial sense of touch.
But one obstacle is that Copeland did not sense any feeling in his thumb or fingertips – both of which are key for gripping. Gaunt says this is due to the position of the electrode arrays, which they now know were implanted in an area corresponding to the base of Copeland’s fingers, not their tips.
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