Keck Medicine of USC, Caltech and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation clinical trial defines next generation of neuroprosthetics
Paralyzed from the neck down after suffering a gunshot wound when he was 21, Erik G. Sorto now can move a robotic arm just by thinking about it and using his imagination.
Through a clinical collaboration between Caltech, Keck Medicine of USC and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, the now 34-year-old Sorto is the first person in the world to have a neural prosthetic device implanted in a region of the brain where intentions are made, giving him the ability to perform a fluid hand-shaking gesture, drink a beverage and even play “rock, paper, scissors,” using a robotic arm.
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Neural prosthetic devices have previously been implanted in the brain’s movement center, the motor cortex, allowing patients with paralysis to control the movement of a robotic limb. The motion, however, is delayed and jerky. Now, by implanting neuroprosthetics in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), a part of the brain that controls not the movement directly but rather the intent to move, Caltech researchers have developed a way to produce more natural and fluid motions.
Designed to test the safety and effectiveness of this new approach, the clinical trial was led by principal investigator Richard Andersen, the James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience at Caltech, neurosurgeon Charles Y. Liu, professor of neurological surgery and neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and biomedical engineering at USC, and neurologist Mindy Aisen, chief medical officer at Rancho Los Amigos.
The device was surgically implanted in Sorto’s PPC at Keck Hospital of USC in April 2013, and he since has been training with Caltech researchers and staff at Rancho Los Amigos to control a computer cursor and a robotic arm with his mind. The researchers saw just what they were hoping for: intuitive movement of the robotic arm.
Sorto, a single father of two who has been paralyzed for over 10 years, was thrilled with the quick results: “I was surprised at how easy it was