Amazing new technology has given a man with quadriplegia the ability to once again, move his right arm and hand after not being able to for nearly a decade.
Bill Kochevar was in a bicycling accident eight years ago and was paralyzed below his shoulders and had lost the ability to use all of his limbs. However, thanks to a new breakthrough technology, he recently was able to grab a mug of water, draw it to his lips and drink through a straw using his right arm and hand.
Kochevar is the first person to receive a brain-computer interface with recording electrodes to be implanted under his skull and a functional electrical stimulation, or FES, system, which activate his arm and hand, which essentially reconnects his brain to his paralyzed muscles.
“For somebody who’s been injured eight years and couldn’t move, being able to move just that little bit is awesome to me,” Kochevar said in a press release. “It’s better than I thought it would be.”
The technology was developed by a team of researchers at the Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation, or FES, Center at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, and this technology is what enables Kochevar to move.
“He’s really breaking ground for the spinal cord injury community,” said Bob Kirsch, chair of Case Western Reserve’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and executive director of the FES Center. “This is a major step toward restoring some independence.”
The technology uses Kochevar’s own brain signals to control the stimulation of limbs.
“By taking the brain signals generated when Bill attempts to move and using them to control the stimulation of his arm and hand, he was able to perform personal functions that were important to him,” said Bolu Ajiboye, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering.
The research is part of the ongoing BrainGate2 pilot clinical trial which is being conducted by a consortium of academic and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs institutions that are studying the safety and feasibility of the implanted brain-computer interface, or BCI system in people with paralysis.
A team of surgeons implanted Kochevar with two 96-channel electrode arrays — each the size of a baby aspirin — into his motor cortex. The arrays record brain signals that are created whenever he thinks of moving his arm or hand. The brain-computer interface processes information from the brain on the movements he wants to make and passes the information to command the electrical stimulation system.
The BCI decodes the brain signals that were recorded and translates them into the intended movement commands, which is then converted by the FES system into patterns of electrical pulses. These pulses are then sent through the FES electrodes to stimulate the muscles controlling Kochevar’s hand, arm, wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Kochevar is equipped with a mobile arm support which assists him with raising his arm and reaching out.
Kochevar learned how to use brain signals to move a virtual-reality arm and practiced on a computer before trying it in real life and completed rehabilitation for 45 weeks to overcome his muscle atrophy that had occurred from lack of movement for eight years.
He is now able to make each joint in his right arm move individually, and each muscle is activated to coordinate when he thinks of feeding himself or drinking.
“I’m making it move without having to really concentrate hard at it,” Kochevar said. “I just think out… and it goes.”