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New technology helps man find freedom despite paralysis

The Cleveland VA, Case Western Reserve and University Hospitals collaborated for a documentary that showcases the journey of brain interface technology

CLEVELAND — From our thoughts to our actions and our natural movement, it all starts in the brain.

Unfortunately, though, there are times when that connection is damaged and science steps in.

In a new film, a man who suffered a spinal cord injury and eventual paralysis is studied. 

Bill Kochevar takes a chance and volunteers to be part of an experiment that could change his body and his life.

By putting electrodes in the brain, the signals are recorded, analyzed and applied to a functional electrical stimulation system. It’s then studied and can generate the pattern of muscle actions the brain intends to make.

The result of this technology is the potential for a paralyzed person to move their limbs through the brain activity.

“We're trying to connect their thoughts to the movement in an automatic, seamless way,” Dr. Robert Kirsch, Cleveland FES Center director, said.

The applied technology started as Dr. Kirsch’s project but Dr. Bolu Ajiboye from Case Western Reserve University and Dr. Johnathan Miller from University Hospitals collaborated to make it happen.

“I want people to understand the potential impact that technology can have on human life and specifically human health,” Dr. Ajiboye said.

The team behind the project says the research, though it’s made great advancements, is still just scratching the surface.

“It's very early it's in the research stages but like the personal computer did in the 80s, it really has a potential for exponential growth,” Dr. Ajiboye said. “People like Bill Kochevar are what makes this research possible, people who are willing to push the boundaries of research.”

Bill Kochevar was the first person to receive both a recording system and a stimulation system to allow him to move, though he was paralyzed. Before he passed away, he proved that the technology worked when he fed himself for the first time since his paralysis.

The ground breaking work done in Cleveland shows how far we’ve already come but the “I AM HUMAN” documentary gives people a look at how instrumental the research could be.

“We're well known nationally and I hope this movie makes us well known locally,” Dr. Kirsch said.

The film airs Thursday, January 30th at Playhouse Square with a panel discussion to follow.

Click this link for ticket information.

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