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Brain implant allows paralyzed man to regain sense of touch

New research and medical advancements are coming out that show promise regarding treatment for spinal cord injuries and paralysis.

Nathan Copeland experienced the difficulties associated with paralysis firsthand. More than a decade ago, Mr. Copeland lost his ability to move his hands as well as his ability to feel what his fingers touch due to a spinal cord injury sustained in a car crash.

Now, thanks to research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Mr. Copeland has gained a new way to connect to the world around him. Mr. Copeland now has a robotic arm controlled by his mind. The pressure sensors in the robotic arm's fingertips are able to send messages to the brain directly.

New research is promising

In the journal Science Translational Medicine, the scientists from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center recently published their research and the details of the development of the robotic arm.

The researchers implanted two small chips in Mr. Copeland's brain. These chips bypass his damaged spinal cord and send electrical signals to and from the robotic arm. These electrical signals are related to sensation and movement.

Copeland attests that the many sensations that he feels from his robotic hand feel "natural." However, he also admits that the sensations are "weird." He states that some of the sensations feel like pressure while others feel electrical.

According to Robort Gaunt, an assistant professor and bioengineer, Mr. Copeland can now touch an object and know from which which finger the sensation originates. Based on the sensation, he can also tell whether an object he touches is hard or soft. However, Mr. Gaunt admits that some improvements still need to be made to the robotic arm, as Mr. Copeland still lacks the ability to feel texture - he can't sense the difference between burlap and silk, for example.

Mike McLoughlin, who is an engineer from the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, reports that this robotic arm is a definite advancement when it comes to making prosthetics more useful for patients. Mr. McLoughlin helped develop the robotic arm.

While it sounds like science fiction, the research in this area of medicine is promising, even if widespread use of such devices for most people is still a long way off. You can read about another promising area of spinal cord research on our blog here.

Spinal cord injuries from car accidents

As Mr. Copeland would certainly be able to attest, the spinal cord injuries that can occur as a result of car accidents can be absolutely devastating. If you or someone you love has suffered a spinal cord injury, you know it requires time and money to learn how to live with paralysis. Lost wages, extensive medical equipment, medical care and other expenses add up quickly. In addition, it can be difficult for the injured and their families to adjust to a new normal.

If you or a loved one recently suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in a car accident, don't hesitate to contact The Law Offices of Steven H. Dorne to determine what your next steps should be.

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