'Brain chip' gives paralysed man control of hand

COLUMBUS, OHIO (Reuters) - Ian Burkhart of Ohio was permanently paralysed in a diving accident when he was 19 years old.

But now with the help of a new, breakthrough computer chip - implanted in his brain - the now 24-year-old is playing Guitar Hero.

"When we first hooked everything up, you know for the first time being able to move my hand, it was a big shock because you know it was something that I have not moved in three and half years at that point, now it's more of something where I expect it to move," said Mr Burkhart, a quadriplegic patient at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Centre.

The small pea-sized computer chip relays signals from Mr Burkhart's brain through 130 electrodes to his forearm, allowing his mind guide his hands and fingers, bypassing his damaged spinal cord.

On Wednesday (April 13), scientists and neurosurgeons describing this quadriplegic's accomplishments as a milestone in the evolution of brain-computer interface technology.

"This really provides hope, we believe, for many patients in the future as this technology evolves and matures," said Dr Ali Rezai, Director of Ohio State's Centre for Neuromodulation, at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre.

Mr Burkhart says the progress is moving along faster than he imagined.

"The biggest dream would be to get full function of my hand back, both my hands, because that would allow you to be much more independent, not to have to rely on people for simple day to day tasks that you take for granted," he said.

Scientists are working to improve the technology, which for now can only be used in the laboratory, and move toward a wireless system bringing Mr Burkhart another step closer to his dream.