Will 'Mind Control' Solve Paralysis?

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A so-called mind control device is helping people with full or partial paralysis regain some control over their limbs. The device might seem like the stuff of science fiction, but actual mind control is the wave of the present, offering new hope to long-paralyzed people.

Paralysis: A Brief Primer

Nearly 2% of the U.S. population has some degree of paralysis, with strokes, spinal cord injuries, and multiple sclerosis acting as the primary sources for such injuries. In most cases, the problem isn't physical damage to the paralyzed limb or portion of the body. Instead, most cases of paralysis derive from a neurological issue. A person who suffers a spinal cord injury, for instance, may experience a severed spinal cord that impedes the ability of the brain to send movement signals and the spinal cord to process these signals. Likewise, a stroke survivor may suffer damage to motor neurons in the brain, limiting mobility.

Most technologies designed to assist those with paralysis have been designed in an attempt to get around these neurological issues. For instance, electric wheelchairs allow users to push a button to move, rather than attempting to remedy the problem of low or no mobility.

Mind Control to Combat Paralysis

The newest generation of devices for mobility assistance goes much further than simply replacing damaged limbs or offering help to people who struggle with movement. Instead, these devices aim to work around the neurological issues associated with paralysis to enable paralyzed people to yet again move. One new device, developed through a partnership between the Battelle Memorial Institute and Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, uses brain implants to allow the mind to once again control movement—just as it does in people who are not paralyzed.

The device works by implanting a chip in the brain that interprets and receives neural signals. This chip sends information to a specialized sleeve on the patient's forearm, bypassing the spinal cord. In so doing, it allows a person's thoughts to yet again regulate his or her movements, even when the spinal cord is severely damaged. At least one person, a paralyzed 23-year-old from Brooklyn, was able to control the device so well he could use it to lift a beer.

Solving Paralysis With Mind Control

If the possibility of mind control that ends paralysis seems too good to be true, you're right to be skeptical. Today's mind control devices are expensive and experimental and require extensive monitoring. Few hospitals make them available to patients, and they don't yet work for everyone. However, the mere existence of these devices suggests that it is possible to use the brain to control movement, even without the involvement of the spinal cord. One day, these devices may be widely available.

It's important to note that these devices primarily work for spinal cord injury survivors. Those who have severely damaged limbs, or who have suffered brain damage as a result of a stroke, may not have the ability—yet!--to use mind control devices to control their movement, but research into the possibility is ongoing and fast-moving.

Interested in hearing more of the latest research impacting the SCI community? Follow our blog for updates on research, studies, and information to help spinal cord injury survivors and their families.

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Topics: Spinal Cord Injury, Research

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