Consider not being able to feel the warmth of a hand on your shoulder or the buttons of your shirt as you try to button it up.
Millions of people suffer from paralysis and peripheral neuropathy, which occurs when nerves in the body’s extremities, such as the hands and feet, are damaged and they are unable to feel sensations through their fingertips and toes.
But all of that could be about to change.
The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research used a minimally invasive electrode brain implant to elicit the sense of touch in fingers. The study, which is the first of its kind, has the potential to change the lives of millions of people around the world.
The findings were reported in the journal Brain Stimulation.
Making use of previous research
Previously, researchers were able to restore some sensation in the hand using brain-computer interface technology. This new study, on the other hand, takes it a step further by stimulating harder-to-reach areas of the brain, known as sulcal areas, with electrodes that elicit precise feelings in the fingertips.
According to the study’s co-principal investigator, Chad Bouton, professor in the Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine at the Feinstein Institutes, this breakthrough could pave the way for a future clinical option.
A neurosurgeon performed a minimally invasive procedure to implant stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) electrodes into the brains of two patients. Finally, the patients reported tingling and “electricity sensations” in their hands and fingertips.
“This remarkable study indicates bioelectronic medicine and neurosurgery could restore functions previously lost in these conditions,” said Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes. Tracey is referring to conditions such as spinal cord injuries or strokes.
Several institutes and companies, including Elon Musk’s Neuralink and its competitor Synchron, have been working hard to find solutions to help treat certain conditions using brain implants. Other companies, on the other hand, are focusing on developing sensory touch in robots.
As medical technology advances in leaps and bounds, many people around the world will hopefully regain sensory feelings in their hands and feet, improving their quality of life.