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New York readers may find a recent news story more akin to science fiction than actual scientific progress. Researchers have announced that they have been able to create and implement technology that has enabled a patient with a severe spinal cord injury to move a robotic arm with his mind. While this story will be of wide interest across the nation, it brings a message of hope to those who have sustained severe spinal cord injuries, as well as to the friends and family members who love them.

The technological breakthrough came about through the design of an electrode array that is placed on top of the brain by manner of an implantation surgery. The patient’s brain was first scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while he was watching footage of various arm movements. By looking at the fMRI display, researchers were able to identify which areas of the brain were activated when the patient was thinking about moving his arm.

During the surgery, wires were run from the brain implant to the exterior of the patient’s body, so that they could be connected to the necessary computer cables. Next came a 12 day period of testing, during which the patient watched more video of arm movements so that the research team could fine-tune the resulting brain signals to control on-screen computer tests. One such test had the patient moving a virtual ball using only his thoughts. The next phase had him moving a robotic arm in the same way.

This breakthrough is exciting to the research community and to the body of patients who are learning to live with severely limited mobility and limb control following spinal cord injuries. Being subjected to this form of injury is a life-changing event, and this research development has the power to give New York patients more control over their bodies and their lives. In cases in which such injuries were the result of negligence on the part of another party, personal injury litigation can lead to significant financial awards, which can be used to cover the cost of cutting-edge medical advancements such as the one mentioned here.

Source: nanowerk.com, “Spinal cord-injured man controls robot arm with thoughts,” Feb. 9, 2013