Scientists call this “limb reanimation,” and the research has recently led to a major breakthrough: for the first time, a person with quadriplegia experienced the reanimation of a hand.
The man behind the study was paralyzed after a diving accident five years ago. He lost sensation in his legs and hands, though he retained some arm function.
As The New York Times reports, a few years later, he volunteered to undergo an experimental procedure to implant a microchip in the part of his brain that control motor function. Scientists were testing whether data collected by the microchip could be used to allow a quadriplegic person to move his or her hand, using his or her thoughts and bypassing the damaged portion of the spinal cord.
The system works by connecting the implant to a computer, which is also hooked up to a sleeve on the man’s arm. After a year of arduous practice, the man is now able to pour water out of a bottle, and stir with a straw. While hooked up to the system, his injury is technically improved from severe C5 function to the less severe C7, the Times says.
For now, the man has to be in the lab for his hand to work, and the study’s funding is set to run out later this year. But future research could build on this and lead to wireless versions that people could use in the real world.
Until that happens, people paralyzed after an accident will still need money to pay for physical therapy and help with everyday tasks. If someone else caused the injury, that party should be the one to pay these costs.