Brain Scan

“I Feel The Earth Move.” But Some People Can’t.

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In past articles I have discussed the neuropathy I have in my hips and legs. I have numbness and pain coming from over-activated nerves. I have had the neurological tests performed and the nerves are functioning the way they should, but it is my perception of the nerve stimuli that is not working properly. The nerves are, to say it simply, messed up but at least I can still feel.

The headline of this article refers to the 1971 hit song sung by Carole King  titled ” I feel then earth move.”  It was written by her and James Taylor. There are many people who cannot feel external stimuli, but scientists are working to change that. I found an April 10, 2018 article on Medical X press.com from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) that describes the latest research relating to paralyzed patients who have no feeling where they are paralyzed. The title of the article sums it up nicely “Scientists induce sensations of touch and movement in the arm of a paralyzed man.”  What makes this revolutionary is that they are stimulating a portion of the brain to produce the feeling.

Brain Scan
Brain Scan Showing Somatosensory Cortex Area | Image by Caltech.edu

According to the article” The patient had become paralyzed from the shoulders down three years ago after a spinal cord injury. Two arrays of tiny electrodes were surgically inserted into his somatosensory cortex. Using the arrays, the researchers stimulated neurons in the region with very small pulses of electricity. The participant reported feeling different natural sensations-such as squeezing, tapping, a sense of upward motion, and several others-that would vary in type, intensity, and location depending on frequency, amplitude, and location of stimulation from the arrays. It is the first time such natural sensations have been induced by intracortical neural stimulation.”

How It Works
Andersen Figure Showing How The Sensory System Works | Image by caltech.edu

What does the somatosensory cortex do? According to neuroscientificallychallenged.com “The primary somatosensory cortex is responsible for processing somatic sensations. These sensations arise from receptors positioned throughout the body that are responsible for detecting touch, proprioception  (i.e. the position of the body in space), nosyception (i.e. pain), and temperature. When such receptors detect one of these sensations, the information is sent to the thalamus and then the primary somatosensory cortex.”

Richard A. Andersen
Richard A. Andersen | Photo by magazine.caltech.edu

The research paper explaining this research was published in the April 10, 2018 issue of eLife. The research was performed in the lab of Richard Andersen, James G. Boswell-Professor of Neuroscience, T&C Chen Brain-Machine Interface Center Leadership Chair, and Director of the T&C Chen Brain-Machine Interface Center. That’s a lot of credentials for one man. Try and put that on a standard business card.

Prosthetic Hand
Close-up Of Prosthetic Hand That Allows Feeling | Image by DARPA

Up until now researchers could only give their subjects the sensation or buzzing or tingling in the hand with neural implants. It took finding just the right place in the brain to get the current results.

Prosthetic Arm
Volunteer Amputee Fitted With Experimental Prosthetic Arm | Photo by DARPA

From an article in medicalpress.com let’s continue the idea of feeling. The U.S. Military has been working to give patients with prosthetic hands the ability to actually feel some of what a real hand can feel. They took a patient who had been paralyzed for more than ten years and gave him a special prosthetic hand that would allow him to feel sensations. The medical team placed electrodes into the sensory cortex of his brain. That gave him the ability to perceive a basic sense of touch. He was able to “feel” which fingers were being touched individually by a researcher. They also connected wires from the motor cortex of his brain to the hand which allowed him to move his prosthetic hand in response to the feeling he experienced. The Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University developed the special mechanical hand.

DARPA
DARPA | Image by internetofbusiness.com

The people working on this project are from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Quoting the medical press.com article “..DARPA says new advances made possible by neural technologies it is developing pointy to a future ‘in which people living with paralyzed or missing limbs will not only be able to manipulate objects by sending signals from their brain to robotic devices, but also be able to sense precisely what those devices are touching.'”

The Six Million Dollar Man
The Six Million Dollar Man TV series | Image by ABC Television

This would indicate that we are not as far away as we thought from the “Six Million Dollar Man” type of rebuilding damaged human bodies in such a way that the patient will be much closer to normal and possibly even better than they were previous to their medical issue. Many amputees have had great success with prosthetic devices, but the future of this research could be unlimited with the recent steps taken by those dedicated to giving the patients the limbs back that they lost due to war, accident, disease, or even birth defects.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: tim.chuey@eugenedailynews.com.

 

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.