Burkhart’s device was implanted in his brain about nine years ago, several years after he was unable to move his limbs after a diving accident. He volunteered to try out a device that allowed him to move his hands and fingers. But it had to be removed seven and a half years later.
His special implant is a small set of 100 electrodes, carefully inserted into the part of the brain that helps control movement. It works by recording brain activity and sending these recordings to a computer, where they are processed by an algorithm. This is connected to an electrode sleeve worn on the arm. The idea is to convert thoughts about movement into electrical signals that trigger movement.
Burkhart was the first to receive a transplant in 2014; He is 24 years old. After recovering from surgery, he began a training program to learn how to use it. Three times a week for about a year and a half, he visits a lab where implants can be connected to a computer via a cable that goes out of his head.
“It works great,” said Burkhart. “Initially we could only open and hold our hand, but after a while we were able to do individual finger movements.” He was finally able to combine movements and control his grip. He can even play Guitar Hero.
He said: “There are so many things that I can do, which is exciting. “But it is still limited.” Not only can he use lab equipment, but he can also only perform lab-based tasks. “Any activity we do will be simplified,” he said.
For example, he can pour a bottle out, but it’s just a bottle of seeds, because the researchers don’t want liquid around the electrical device. He said: “It’s a pity it hasn’t changed everything in my life, because I’ve seen how beneficial it can be.
Either way, the device worked so well that the team extended the trial period. Burkhart originally planned to have the transplant within 12 to 18 months, he said. “But things really worked out…so we were able to carry on for quite a while after that.” The trial was extended every year, and Burkhart continued to visit the lab twice a week.