Paralyzed Man Controls His Arm With His Thoughts : Shots - Health News A spinal injury severed the connection between Bill Kochevar's brain and everything below his shoulders. But technology has given him a new way to control one arm and hand.
NPR logo

Paralyzed Man Uses Thoughts To Control His Own Arm And Hand

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/521665654/521884375" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Paralyzed Man Uses Thoughts To Control His Own Arm And Hand

Paralyzed Man Uses Thoughts To Control His Own Arm And Hand

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/521665654/521884375" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is kind of extraordinary. A paralyzed man has regained the use of his arm and hand using a device that decodes his thoughts. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports on the technology here. It enables basic tasks like holding a coffee mug.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: Bill Kochevar was in his 40s when he was paralyzed in a bicycle accident. And for the next eight years, he was unable to move any part of his body below his shoulders. The damage to his spine meant signals from his brain had no way to reach those distant muscles. Then, researchers in Cleveland were able to create a new connection between Kochevar's brain and his right arm and hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

BILL KOCHEVAR: Well, it was amazing because I thought about moving my arm, and it did. I can move it in and out, up and down.

HAMILTON: Kochevar talked about his experience in a video made by Case Western Reserve University. He says regaining the use of his arm and hand allowed him to do simple things without help.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

KOCHEVAR: I ate a pretzel. I drank water.

HAMILTON: He even found a way to scratch his nose. The research that made all this possible is the work of Case Western, the Cleveland VA Medical Center and University Hospital's Cleveland Medical Center. It's part of a larger, federally funded effort known as BrainGate. Robert Kirsch of Case Western says the system relies on electrodes in Kochevar's brain. They detect signals coming from areas he once used to control his hand and arm.

ROBERT KIRSCH: We record the signals from those areas, and we have an algorithm that then sort of transforms those neural signals into intended movements, the movements that he intended to make.

HAMILTON: But movement requires muscles, so the system sends electrical signals directly to the appropriate muscles in Kochevar's arm. The upshot is he can extend his arm and grab things with his hand. Kirsch says this sort of technology, which took more than a decade to develop, is still in its early stages.

KIRSCH: I think what we've done, though, is shown that we can put this all together, and it's feasible. We can actually record signals from his brain, determine what he's trying to do and make that happen.

HAMILTON: For Kochevar, who spent eight years unable to move his hand, that's a big deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

KOCHEVAR: I'm still wowed every time I do something amazing.

HAMILTON: The research on Kochevar appears in the journal The Lancet.

Jon Hamilton, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ASO'S "SEASONS")

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.