A man who is paralysed from the neck down has become the first such patient to move his hand by the power of thought alone.
Thanks to a chip implanted in his brain, Ian Burkhart ushered in what doctors are calling a ‘bionic age’ which could revolutionise treatment for the disabled.
All he had to do was think intensely about moving his hand and the rest was done by the chip in less than a tenth of a second.
Mr Burkhart, 23, carried out a successful test of the ‘Neurobridge’ which doctors say could offer hope to stroke victims and those with muscular disorders.
A team from Ohio State University and research firm Battelle opened up the US patient’s skull and inserted the 0.15-inch chip into his brain to ‘read’ his thoughts.
The information is transmitted via cable to a computer which decodes it and adds commands that would normally come from the spinal column.
The computer is connected to a sleeve of electrodes on his arm which stimulates the muscle fibres to move.
Battelle’s Chad Bouton said: ‘It’s like a heart bypass, but we’re bypassing electrical signals instead of blood. We take signals from the brain, go around the injury and go directly to the muscles.’
In a test, Mr Burkhart was able to curl his hand into a fist, open it fully and grab a spoon. He told reporters that the thing he misses most is ‘just being independent’.
He said: ‘You have to rely on other people so much. It would really be nice to just do something as simple as open up a water bottle myself.’
Mr Burkhart, from Dublin, Ohio, broke his spine in 2010 after diving into the sea off the coast of North Carolina and hitting a sandbar.
The water was more shallow than he realised and the next thing he knew he could not feel his body. His friends pulled him out of the water and he was airlifted to hospital where he began his recovery.