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Meet the Man Behind a Pair of Moving Paralyzed Hands

By Sydney Cook
Posted On Apr 14, 2016
Meet the Man Behind a Pair of Moving Paralyzed Hands


Doctors said Ian Burkhart would never move his hands again. But now, scientists have developed a system that has enabled Burkhart to complete everyday tasks.

Ian Burkhart, a 24-year-old student from Dublin, Ohio, suffered a freak accident five years ago which left him paralyzed from the chest down. Given that, he should not be able to move his hands at all – but he can.

Thanks to a computer software that transmits his thoughts directly to his hand muscles and bypasses his spinal injury, Ian can pick up small objects (like a straw), stir, pour from a bottle, swipe a credit card, and even play Guitar Hero.

After the chip’s implantation in Ian’s brain two years ago, he became the first person with quadriplegia to regain hand and finger movement using brain signals. Further details are explained in the doctors’ study published by Nature.

“The doctors told me I had broken my neck, and I had a spinal cord injury at the C5 level. And most likely, I’d be able to move my shoulders around, but nothing else – for the rest of my life.”

It was the summer after his freshmen year of college when Ian lost the ability to move anything below his chest. Ian dove into a wave in the ocean off the Outer Banks of North Carolina and unfortunately, landed head first in a sandbar. The spinal cord injury he now suffers from disables his movement, aside from the residual movement in his shoulders.

In June 2014, during the early stages of the trial, Ian moved his hand for the first time after his accident, and as a result of three sessions a week for over a year, he can use the system to do multiple things he couldn’t do on his own without the technology.

This is a major step forward for the paralysis community; however, it will be years until a paralyzed patient is be able to control a neural prosthesis without the help of their caregivers.

Though the chip is not a cure for paralysis, and movement can only happen when connected to computers in the lab, doctors hope to continue improving the technology to also be able to help those who’ve experienced strokes and other traumatic brain injuries.

Watch Ian partake in this scientific milestone to not only help himself gain independence but others as well.

Go Ian! We’re rooting for you.