Keith Thomas, a Long Island native, remembers the sunny Sunday afternoon vividly. He dove into the wrong side of the pool, and his world went dark. That July day in 2020, a few months into the pandemic, marked a tragic turn in his life. He suffered a severe neck injury, fracturing the C4 and C5 vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. But a groundbreaking clinical trial, employing a pioneering bioelectrical therapy known as a double neural bypass, has brought hope and progress back to his life.
The experimental procedure, conducted at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, was led by Chad Bouton, a professor at Northwell’s Institute of Bioelectronic Medicine. The therapy combines artificial intelligence (AI), brain-computer interface (BCI) implants, external computers, and wearable technology, offering a unique solution to restore communication between the brain and the body when traditional means fail.
The double neural bypass, much like a coronary bypass surgery for the heart, reroutes neural signals using machine learning and electrical signaling. In this case, it redirects signals for both movement and touch, aiming to answer the complex question of how to restore communication between a paralyzed individual’s brain and their body.
Termed “thought-driven therapy” by Bouton and his team, the approach utilizes brain-embedded chips that employ machine learning to decode intricate neuronal patterns. This pioneering technique, while sounding like science fiction, exhibits significant potential. For millions worldwide dealing with paralysis or mobility issues, it could be a game-changer.
Bouton’s team previously performed the world’s first single neural bypass surgery in 2016, which successfully restored movement but fell short of reinstating the patient’s sense of touch. Seven years later, the double neural bypass aims to achieve both goals: regaining movement and sensation.
For Keith Thomas, the journey began with months of gazing at simulated arm and hand movements on a computer screen, willing his brain to replicate the actions. Detailed MRIs mapped the relevant brain areas responsible for arm movement and hand touch.
The plan involved implanting five BCI chips, two in the brain region controlling movement and three in the touch and feeling region for fingers. These chips decoded bioelectrical messages sent to a computer, which then transmitted electrical signals to electrode-equipped patches on Thomas’ spine and forearms. In addition, tiny sensors on his fingertips and palms sent touch and pressure data back to his sensory brain region.
The procedure was a monumental task, including a 15-hour open brain surgery in March. Astonishingly, Keith Thomas was awake for significant portions of the surgery, communicating his sensations to Bouton and his surgical team.
The results have been nothing short of miraculous. Four months post-surgery, Thomas has regained full strength in both arms, with a remarkable 110 percent recovery in his right arm. Most encouragingly, he has started to experience natural recovery in his forearm and wrist, indicating that the therapy might have triggered his nervous system’s inherent healing mechanisms.
The success of the double neural bypass procedure offers newfound hope to individuals facing paralysis, showcasing the tremendous potential of advanced bioelectrical therapies and AI in restoring lost functions and sensations.
By Impact Lab