Smart Woman: Robotic Arm For Paralyzed Patients

A paralyzed woman took a drink on her own for the first time in years using just her thoughts to direct a robotic arm. She was able to do it thanks to technology that translates brain signals into actual movements.

For the first time in nearly 15 years, Cathy Hutchinson is picking up a cup and taking a sip without anyone's help.

The stroke victim is once again able to perform tasks like this thanks to a revolutionary robotic arm that responds to her thoughts.

Dr. John Donoghue at Brown University said, "We have to connect on their head a little wire that goes out to a computer and the computer does all the work of translating thoughts to actions.

Researchers implanted a tiny electrode in the part of Cathy's brain that controls arm movement. At first the computer was only able to interpret the most basic brainwaves, but researchers soon decoded more complex impulses.

"We discovered not only we could actually extract information not only about up and down and left and right and open and closed your hand but actually move it around any place say across the table top," said Dr. Donoghue

The Braingate technology is in early clinical trials researchers say the ultimate goal is a device that would help a paralyzed person control their own body.

Dr. Leigh Hochberg at Neurologist Massachusetts General Hospital said, "The real dream for the research though for paralysis is to reconnect brain to limb, to route those signals to allow that person to reach out with their own limb and pick up that coffee cup."
Still, Hutchinson's accomplishment is a big thrill to her doctors.

Dr. Leigh Hochberg said, "To be able to watch her reach out and pick that up and to see the smile on her face as soon as she did that and was a magical moment for all of us."

Some experts say wide use of robotic arms could be just 5 years away but reactivating paralyzed limbs could take decades.

The technology faces a number of hurdles to widespread use, like reducing its high cost and making it more reliable.

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