A young man playing video games might not be so remarkable, but it is when that young man became paralyzed after a swimming accident. Now, a year long experiment is proving the strength of his thoughts combined with technology.
It's not unusual for a college-age student to spend hours playing a guitar video game but the fact that Ian Burkhart is doing it is nothing short of incredible. In 2010, he was paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident. He couldn't move a finger, let alone all of them.
After a year-long experiment, doctors have merged the strength of his thoughts with technology.
"And now, it's just something that's so fluid it's just kind of like it was before I had my injury, where I just think about what I want to do and now I can do it," Burkhart said.
He made international headlines in 2014 when he became the first paralyzed patient to move his hand using his own thoughts. That day, he simply picked up a spoon.
Today, he's not only playing video games, but pouring objects from a cup and swiping credit cards. All with the aid of a sleeve, a computer chip, and a movement algorithm developed by Battelle that Ian controls with his brain.
In 2014, neurosurgeon Ali Rezai implanted the computer chip in Ian's brain at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. That chip is connected to wires that come from ian's head and are hooked to this sleeve to create a neural bypass.
"Several years after a spinal cord injury his level of function has improved significantly so that he is able to have more use of his fingers and hands to do functional tasks. Which has not been demonstrated before," Rezai said.
For more than a year ian has made dozens of trips back to ohio state for therapy with a team of physicians and battelle engineers . Each time, computers read his thoughts, decode them, and send messages to the sleeve to move his muscles.
The results of his remarkable progress are detailed in a new study in the journal nature. It may sound like science fiction, but the more Ian and the computer work together, the more they learn to listen to each other - which is taking researchers by surprise.
Researchers hope this technology can be used to help a range of patients in the future, including stroke victims.
"It is often very difficult for patients to regain movement in the hand and arm area, so this technology will help speed that recovery and make that rehabilitation much more effective," Former Battelle Engineer Chat Boutton said.
Ian is optimistic his efforts will lead to medical advances that change lives forever.
"I have a lot more hope for the future now," Burckhart said. "I always knew maybe someday something would happen, but now I know for sure that something actually is happening."
Researchers have identified two more patients to participate in the study. Eventually, they hope to develop wireless technology that could be paired with sleeves and other devices to help paralyzed patients move again.