ICBioethics Blog 

Health Technology Update: Brain-Controlled Mechanical Prosthetics

Written by: Aimee Zellers

Recent technological innovations have given hope to those with severe physical disabilities or injuries such as quadriplegics, amputees, and others who have lost or never had the ability to use their arms.

Jan Scheuermann is a quadriplegic, suffering from spinocerebellar degeneration, who is forced to rely on others for everything. She spent the first portion of her life with a normal functioning body, but for the last 9 years has been forced to rely on others due to the devastating nature of her malady.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have been developing brain-controlled mechanical instruments to help improve the quality of life for people like Jan. She is the first to successfully manipulate a robot arm that is controlled by her mind, via a brain implant. Now she has the ability to manipulate a mechanical arm and complete some basic tasks all by herself. The implant can read the electrodes in her brain, translate that information through two quarter-inch square electrode grids which have 96 tiny contact points for brain areas that control arm and hand movement, and direct the robot arm to carry out very basic tasks. In less than a year she was able to pick up a chocolate bar and move it to her mouth, where she was able to take a bite. For the first time in 9 years, Jan fed herself.

Given Jan’s success, this health technology innovation may be available to the public in as soon as 5 to 10 years. It provides those who currently lack independence with the opportunity to gain a little back.


Check out the article High-performance neuroprosthetic control by an individual with tetraplegia, published by The Lancet:

Mitch GennusoComment