Orange County, CA - October 18th 2017 - Eight years after a bicycle accident left him paralyzed from the shoulders down, Bill Kochevar is now able to move his arm. He is the first person with quadriplegia to have arm and hand movements restored with the help of temporary brain implants.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Center at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center (UH) have been working on research with BrainGate2, an ongoing trial conducted by academic and VA institutions assessing the safety and feasibility of brain implant stimulation on people with paralysis.
Jonathan Miller, director of the Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery Center at UH and assistant professor of neurosurgery at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, led the team of surgeons who implanted two 96-channel electrode arrays- each about the size of a baby aspirin- in Kochevar’s motor cortex on the surface of the brain. The arrays record brain signals generated in the visualization of movement in the arm and hand. The team then inserted the FES stimulation system to animate muscles in the upper and lower arm. The brain-computer interface extracts information from the brain signals about intended movements then passes the information to command the electrical stimulation system in the arm.
“We’ve been able to take the electrical signals, which represent his thoughts, and use that to control stimulation of his arm and his hand,” summarized A. Bolu Ajiboye, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the Cleveland FES Center.
To prepare Kochevar for voluntary mobility, he went through virtual reality training for four months to ensure command recognition for his arm movement.When asked to explain how he commanded the movements, Kochevar said, “I’m making it move without having to really concentrate hard at it. I just think ‘out’- and it goes.”
Advances are necessary to make this combined technology useful outside of laboratory settings, however work is underway to make the brain implants wireless, and researchers are improving stimulation patterns for more precise movements. Fully implantable FES systems have been developed and are currently being tested in a separate clinical trial. “There is room for significant growth. We are just at the forefront of really understanding how the brain functions, how to take advantage of our knowledge, and we can see exponential growth,” said Ajiboye.
Kochevar welcomes any and all technology that will grant him greater mobility. “I always want them to do more,” he said. “Seeing the possibility is one of the biggest goals. Yes, I’m injured, but it’s not like my life stopped when I got injured. It’s going to help out a lot of people for years to come.” The research was published March 2017 in the medical journal The Lancet.
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