If you’ve watched the national news in the past few days, you’ve probably already heard this story. It is still amazing, every time we see it. In a breakthrough procedure, a woman has been given the ability to control a robotic arm with her thoughts.
The breakthrough came from Dr. Hochberg and his team of 20 researchers at Brown Mass General and the Providence V. A. Cathy Hutchinson was the first woman to participate in the study. She suffered a debilitating stroke 15 years ago, that left her completely paralized. Now, after 15 years of not being able to do anything for herself, she drank from a thermos without any assistance.
Over five years, Hutchinson lived with a device attached to her brain. A tiny chip about the size of a aspirin recorded and analyzed brain waves.
Dr. Hochberg and team measured the signals that the brain produces when it wants to move one’s arm. After noticing patterns that often crop up when performing certain tasks, he designed a program to recognize those patterns and translate them into physical movement via a robotic arm.
The obvious implications of this are astounding. In the future, robotic limbs could be attached directly to a person, and electrical signals from the brain could give an amputee or a paralyzed person full use of their appendage.
“I felt a great accomplishment was made and I was thrilled to be a part of it,” Cathy Hutchinson said.
“It’s exciting for us. Seeing the smile on her face when she was able to bring that thermos of coffee up and to take that first sip – it’s something that all of us on the research team will never forget,” Dr. Leigh Hochberg said.