Scientists have been able to give a paralyzed man the sense of touch with with a robotic arm controlled by implants in his brain. 

30-year-old Nathan Copeland, who became a paraplegic as a teenager after his car spun out of control, is the subject of the experiment.

And now with this the success of this new technology, for the first time, someone with a paralyzed limb can not only move it, but can also now have a sense of touch.

Copeland, who was studying nanotechnology before his accident, volunteered to be a subject with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center five years ago in an effort to help him feel again. And now, it seems to have paid off.

In order to achieve this medical feat, tiny electrodes were fitted into Copeland’s sensory cortex. The electrodes were hooked up to a robotic arm, which when touched, could make Copeland feel pressure in his paralyzed limb. With this technology, scientists are able to maneuver around spinal cord damage to help their subject feel again.

This experiment has been repeated several times, and has been successful each time it was done.

After implanting the electrodes in Copeland’s brain, doctors blindfolded him and put pressure on the robotic arm to see if he could feel it. Miraculously, he could.

Copeland said of the experiment:

“I can feel just about every finger. Sometimes it feels electrical, and sometimes it’s pressure, but for the most part, I can tell most of the fingers with definite precision. It feels like my fingers are getting touched or pushed.”

This marks the first time a paralyzed person has been able to feel again through the assistance of a robotic limb.

In some cases, amputees are able to feel enough to be able to control limbs, but they are not able to experience  the sensation of touch.

Robert Gaunt, a biomedical engineer involved in the project, stated:

“With Nathan, he can control a prosthetic arm, do a handshake, fist bump, move objects around. And in this [experiment], he can experience sensations from his own hand. Now we want to put those two things together so that when he reaches out to grasp an object, he can feel it. … He can pick something up that’s soft and not squash it or drop it.”

This medical first will surely open doors to further technology to improve the lives of amputees and those with paralyzed limbs.


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