Scientists from UCLA (Los Angeles, CA) have tested a spinal stimulator that boosts finger control. The electrical stimulation increased a patient's grip strength up to 300 percent, according to the researchers.
In June, Brian Gomez, now 28, became one of the first people in the world to undergo surgery for the experimental device.
UCLA scientists inserted the 32-electrode stimulator below the site of Gomez’s spinal cord injury, near the C-5 vertebrae in the middle of his neck. The injury area is most commonly associated with quadriplegia, the loss of function and feeling in all four limbs.
The device is placed in the spine instead of the brain. In addition to the stimulator, doctors implanted a small battery pack and processing unit under the skin of the patient’s lower back. The palm-sized device is paired with a remote control that patients and doctors use to regulate the frequency and intensity of the stimulation.
“It’s making a huge difference for me,” said Gomez, who owns a coffee-roasting business in his hometown of San Dimas, California.
As part of his job, Gomez uses an industrial roaster that reaches 450 degrees.
“A few months ago, I reached up to pull a lever to empty a batch of beans after they’d finished roasting,” he said. “But because I didn’t have the arm or core strength, I burned myself. That doesn’t happen anymore because of the strength and dexterity I’ve developed.”