With the help of a robotic arm controlled by her mind, 53-year-old Jan Scheuermann is able to feed herself for the first time in 10 years.
“When they say, ‘That was all you, that wasn't the computer doing that.’ I just can’t stop smiling,” Scheuermann said.
Slideshow: Quadriplegic feeds herself with mind-controlled robot arm
Scheuermann was diagnosed with spinocerebellar degeneration 13 years ago and is paralyzed from the neck down, unable to move her arms or legs.
The Whitehall mother has spent a year with researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC Medical Center as part of a study on using the brain to control robotic limbs.
The brain-computer interface (BCI) uses brain signals that are translated by a computer to allow the user to move the robotic arm.
“I think the ultimate goal would be to have something fully implantable that creates sensation,” said UPMC Rehabilitation Institute Director Dr. Michael Boninger.
Study participant Tim Hemmes said he turned to researchers after a motorcycle crash left him paralyzed.
“I'm trying to lift my arm up right now, it's not working. It hasn't worked in eight years,” he said.
But Hemmes also found success controlling the robotic arm with his mind.
“I think, ultimately, in the long run what we’d like to do is see that technology move even further forward, where we can stimulate muscles in the body to help them use their own limbs,” said Dr. Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara.