(07/20/12) - Using mind over matter may literally make it possible for people suffering paralysis to move again. It sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie.
It is real, very real in fact, for Tim Hemmes. Tim runs a pit bull rescue. He designed the website himself. This is pretty amazing, considering he does it all using his nose, and a specialized computer. Why his nose? Well, Tim is paralyzed from the neck down. A motorcycle accident changed everything for him eight years ago.
Tim's infant daughter was the last person he touched before he went for that ride. Now, Jaylei is his driving force. "I have to hug her one more time. I have to put my arms around her. Feel her, touch her."
That is why he enrolled in an experimental study at the University of Pittsburgh, using the mind to move a machine.
"Someone with a spinal cord injury or amputation can generate the thought to have movement, but because of the spinal cord injury, the thought doesn't go through," says Dr. Michael Boninger, of the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Researchers placed an electrode grid onto the top of Tim's brain. A wire was attached to the grid, guided under the skin of his neck and exited from Tim's chest. That wire was plugged into a computer. The computer then began decoding Tim's brain signals and putting them into action.
Tim was able to control a mechanical arm, using his thoughts at one point reaching out to his girlfriend. "It may have been plastic and metal, but I was able to put it there. I was able to hold it out to her for the first time. That's something I'll take with me forever."
"Tim wants to be able to hug his daughter. We want him to be able to feel when he hugs his daughter," Dr. Boninger says.
The grid is still years away from commercial use, but it is giving Tim something to focus on. "Keep hope. It's coming."
The FDA has only approved the grid for 30 days of testing. After the trial, surgeons removed it from Tim's brain.
Meanwhile, Tim's dream is to hug his daughter by her wedding day.
ABC12 Main Station