New Medical Breakthrough Empowers Paralyzed Man

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A first in recorded medical history, scientists and researchers have enabled a young paralyzed man to experience the feeling of touch again. The University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center collaborated on the experiment to install grain-sized electrodes into the sensory cortex of the brain of Nathan Copeland, 30, the paralyzed man. It then transfers sensory signals to a robotic arm attached to Copeland.

A researcher then pressed the fingers of the prosthesis, allowing Copeland to actually feel the pressure despite his damaged spinal cord exempting the original transfer signals.

Copeland was a teenager when his car spun out of control on a rainy night ten years ago. Copeland was diagnosed with tetraplegia, paralysis of all four limbs. Five years ago, he volunteered for the research at UPMC, where surgeons and specialist tried out the experiment on him.

“I can feel just about every finger,” Copeland said Wednesday. “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.”

“I was awfully relieved,” biomedical engineer Robert Gaunt acknowledged. “Nathan was pretty happy. These were places on the hand that he hasn’t felt in 10 years.”

 

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