A paralysed man was able to feed himself for the first time in eight years, after doctors implanted sensors in his brain that sent signals to his arm.
Bill Kochevar was paralysed from the shoulders down after a cycling accident in Cleveland in 2006.
To help him move again, in 2014, doctors surgically placed two tiny implants into his brain to pick up signals from neurons from the area that controls hand movement.
The signals are relayed through external cables to a computer, which sends commands to electrodes in his arm and hand muscles.
After first practising with virtual reality, Mr. Kochevar was then able to drink coffee through a straw and eat forkfuls of mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese on his own.
“It was amazing,” the 56-year-old Kochevar said. “I couldn’t believe I could do it just by thinking about it.”
But after years of being paralysed, Mr. Kochevar’s shoulder wasn’t strong enough to lift his arm, so doctors also provided him with a robotic arm support for extra assistance.
Mr. Kochevar’s case is detailed by his doctors in a paper published on Tuesday in the journal Lancet.
“We know that [in paralysed people] the spinal cord is damaged and the signals from the brain do not make it down to the muscles. And so in our system, we have effectively bridged that,” said researcher Bob Kirsch of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, the study’s senior author.
Similar technology has previously been used to help a few paralysed people in experimental studies do things such as grasp a bottle, hold a toothbrush and move their legs.
However, the brain and muscle implants haven’t been used beyond the laboratory and are not a cure for paralysis.