A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh (UP) School of Medicine and UPMC (Medical Center) are working with a woman with longstanding quadriplegia to accomplish "ordinary" tasks that once seemed impossible. Together, they have demonstrated, for the first time, that a person with quadriplegia can maneuver a mind-controlled, human-like robot arm in seven dimensions (7D) to consistently perform many of the natural and complex motions of everyday life, such as feed herself, and manipulate objects.

In a study published in The Lancet, the researchers described the brain-computer interface technology and training programs that allowed the patient to intentionally move an arm, turn and bend a wrist, and close a hand for the first time in nine years.

In February, after screening tests to confirm that she was eligible for the study and functional imaging tests of the brain, a neurosurgeon implanted two quarter-inch square electrode grids with 96 tiny contact points each in the regions of the patient's brain that would normally control right arm and hand movement. Within a week, she could begin manipulating the hand and within three months, she had 7D control. She continues to show steady improvement in her abilities with the robotic arm, which was created by a team at the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab.