May 2012

Quadriplegic Man Controls Robot with His Thoughts from 62 Miles Away

mind reading robot for paraplegic with laptop display

While it may sound like something straight out of a science fiction flick, researchers from Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology are actually developing a robot that will help immobile people interact with the world. The robot responds to human thoughts, allowing quadriplegic patients to control it with nothing but the power of their thoughts.

Recently researchers demonstrated the new invention with the help of Mark-Andre Duc, a hospital-bound man from Switzerland who is partially quadriplegic. Duc, who uses a wheelchair and has no control over his legs or fingers, was fitted with a head cap that is able to record the signals emitted by his brain. When Duc imagined lifting a finger, the cap sent signals to a laptop at the hospital, which decoded the brain waves and transmitted the message to a foot-tall robot in the Lausanne lab, located 62 miles away.

mind reading robot for quadriplegic

The robot is equipped with a camera and monitor, giving it the impression of a rolling laptop displaying Duc’s face on its screen. According to Duc, the robot is easy to control when he is feeling well; it is more difficult, however, on days when he is in pain. The reason for this is that the thinker needs to focus on controlling the robot, something that is difficult to do when distracted by pain. Distractions cause the brain waves to weaken, and scramble the signal being sent.

The mind controlled robot at work

Other experiments have been conducted using the workings of mind-reading robots, but this was the first that did not require either able-bodied patients or invasive brain implants. The research gives hope that eventually mind-controlled technology could be developed to significantly improve the quality of life for paralyzed individuals.


Image sources:

Music Student Overcomes Paralysis to Play Piano One-Handed

Paul Murray plays piano for duchess of cornwall despite paralysis

Paul Murray, a 21-year-old from Scotland, didn’t start playing piano until he was fifteen–a late bloomer by musician standards–but he had a natural ability and mastered in weeks complex pieces that often take others years to learn. Now Murray is learning to play all over again after a brain tumor left him with paralysis and unable to use his right hand.

Murray’s musical abilities secured him a spot at Aberdeen University in Scotland in 2007, where he majored in music. But during his first year Murray began to experience severe headaches. He was diagnosed with a massive brain tumor and immediately underwent the first of four brain surgeries. After the surgeries, he spent four months hospitalized, learning to walk and talk again. Doctors said it would take two or more years for him to recover, but Murray was back at Aberdeen University the following academic year. Unfortunately, he remained partially paralyzed on his right side.

“My hand doesn’t work like it used to and when I returned to the university I met with one of my tutors, the composer Paul Mealor, who suggested I try left-hand repertoire,” explained Murray.

Pianist Paul Murray continues to play despite paralysis

Recently, his public performance of left-handed works earned him a standing ovation. He has even begun to adapt other pieces for solo left hand.

“His resilience is astounding,” said Dr. David Smith, head of Aberdeen University’s music department. “What amazes me is how his sheer musicality emerges. When examining second-year performance, we were moved to tears by Paul’s playing–not something that happens often in an exam situation. He was playing left-handed repertoire that most students–and dare I say staff–would have found difficult enough to play with two hands.”

Murray’s battle is far from over, however. Not long ago he began feeling tired, with pins and needles sensations in his body. He woke up one morning unable to feel anything from the waist down. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, yet he is only more determined to play on.

“My passion for classical music has helped me overcome so much, and I hope to be able to bring this music to those who, like me, did not grow up with it.”


Video source:

Image sources:

School Punishes Girls for Wearing T-shirts Supporting Their Paralyzed Vet Dad

the homes for our troops t-shirt

Two proud daughters of a veteran paralyzed in Afghanistan thought it would be a harmless gesture of support for their dad when they wore t-shirts with the logo of Homes for Our Troops, a non-profit that is helping their family. School officials of James Master Elementary School in Converse, Texas felt differently, and the girls are now in trouble for breaking the school’s dress code.

First grade student Savannah and fourth grade student Taylor are the daughters of Army Spc. Justin Perez-Gorda, who was injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. He is now paralyzed and has a traumatic brain injury.

The family had moved to San Antonio shortly before Perez-Gorda’s injury. School officials say that the girls had been in trouble before for violating the school’s dress code, which forbids shirts with logos. “We do have a standardized dress code,” said Judson ISD spokesperson, Aubrey Chancellor. “We certainly support the military, but we do have to be consistent across the board when it comes to following the dress code.”

Girls' mother Josie talks about veterans

The girls’ parents disagree, saying that the school allows kids to wear shirts with college logos, and that their daughters should be allowed to wear shirts showing support. “These guys are fighting for our country and they should be able to wear something that honors their parents, especially if they are wounded,” said the girls’ mother.

The school responded by stating that the girls’ parents were welcome to attend a school board meeting and address their concerns for a needed change in the school’s dress code.

The organization Homes for Our Troops helps build wheelchair accessible homes for veterans.


Image sources:

Paralympic Volleyball Turns Bosnian War Amputees into National Celebrities

Bosnian Men's Sitting Volleyball at Paralympics

From 1992 to 1995, Bosnia was a war torn country, with Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs using land mines and firing artillery in the struggle to control their country. In the end, the country was divided into two mini-states, one for the Serbs and one shared by the Bosniaks and the Croats. Left in the wake of the war were 100,000 dead and hundreds of thousands disabled. Today, many of those disabled men are celebrities in the eyes of their fans, as the Bosnia sitting volleyball players make up a formidable team in the Paralympics.

Before the war, young Bosnians were fans of tall, muscular basketball players. Most had never heard of the Paralympics. Today, young Bosnians are still sports fanatics, and the players they worship are still tall and muscular, but many are missing limbs.

leg prosthesis at sitting volleyball practice

The Bosnia national men’s sitting volleyball team is a collection of talented war victims, many of whom had lost limbs from the artillery shells during the war or from the hundreds of land mines left behind. The team won its first bronze medal in 1997 at the European Championship, just two years after the shooting ended. The following year they won the bronze at the World Championship in Iran, and the gold at the 1999 European Championship in Sarajevo. Since then, they have brought home medals from many competitions.

The team now enjoys celebrity status, with fans greeting them at the airport and stopping them in the street for autographs. Asim Medic sees the fans, and the team, as a blessing. “We managed to inspire many people with this problem and made sure they are not left on the street to go on drugs and everything else the street brings,” he says.

Medic is one member of the team. He lost a leg at age 23 when a shell landed on Sarajevo. During rehabilitation, his doctors suggested sports as a way to stay in shape and avoid depression.

bosnia mens team practice sitting volleyball

Today, there are no Bosnian Serbs on the team, but the team hopes that will soon change. Sabgahudin Delaic, the team captain, hopes the success of the Bosnian team will draw the top Bosnian Serb players. “They claim the time is not right yet,” he says, “but our door remains open.”

Despite the success of the team and the appreciation of the fans, what is perhaps most inspiring is the attitude of the individual players on the team.

“Our disability means nothing to us any more,” says Delaic.


Image sources:

Los Angeles Fined over No Emergency Plan for Residents with Disabilities

Los Angeles Fined for Lack of Disability Disaster Evacuation Plan

Last week, in a 10-0 vote, a payment of $2.1 million dollars for legal fees was approved by the Los Angeles City Council. The vote resulted from a lawsuit filed by disability rights groups on behalf of an estimated 800,000 residents of the city who live with disabilities and no way to evacuate the city in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

wheelchair user during an emergency evacuation

U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo B. Marshall found that the city did not have a plan that would notify, evacuate, transport, or provide shelter for the city’s disabled population should disaster strike. Marshall stated that the city’s emergency plans “must be open and accessible to all of its residents,” and that the city’s current plan violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Because of the city’s failure to address their unique needs, individuals with disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable to harm in the event of an emergency or disaster,” the judge wrote.

santa monica earthquake damage

It was also noted that the city’s own Department on Disability report in 2008 concluded that disabled residents were “at-risk for suffering and death in disproportionate numbers.”

Shawna Parks, legal director of the Disability Rights Legal Center, along with other advocates, scrutinized the city’s 200-page emergency operations plan, which is available through public records requests. It was obvious that there was no consideration for the needs of the disabled. The need for city evacuation plans that include the disabled was highlighted during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when death rates among the disabled and elderly were significantly higher than those of able-bodied residents.

a wheelchair user during emergency evacuation for Hurricane Katrina

Officials were ordered to meet with the parties that brought the lawsuit, which included Actively Living Independent and Audrey Harthorn, a San Fernando resident who uses a wheelchair. The city has three years to rewrite the evacuation plan, and must address the needs of the city’s disabled population.

The $2.1 million awarded for legal fees will be paid to the legal team of Disability Rights Advocates.


Image sources:

All-American Hockey Player and Coach Bounces Back After Paralyzing Accident

Kristen Cameron Recovers from Paralyzing Injuries

Born into a family of hockey players on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, Kristen Cameron grew up playing the sport. She was a star hockey player at Bowdoin College in Maine, then in 2010 took a job as assistant hockey coach in a Division 1 program at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA. But in September of that year her life changed instantly when she became the victim of a drunk driver in a hit and run accident, leaving her with a spinal cord injury and paralysis from the chest down.

Hockey's Kristen Cameron Recovers from Paralyzing Injuries

It had started out as a great day. Kristen had moved into a new apartment, conveniently located by the ice rink. After unpacking and running errands, she decided to take a bike ride on the local riding trails. It was then that she was struck by a drunk driver who fled the scene, leaving her on the side of the road with a fractured spine. Witnesses say she flew nearly 50 feet into the air, and the driver stopped to check for damages to his car before driving off.

Kristen Cameron's Paralyzing Bike Accident

Most of her hospital stay was a blur, but one memory sticks out for Cameron. “Someone came in and poked my leg and asked me if I could feel it, and I said, ‘No,'” Cameron said. “My sister immediately got up and left the room because she was upset. That’s one of the things I remember the most. Her being so upset, me feeling bad that she was upset. I don’t know, I guess I never really believed it.”

Cameron also remembers her family and friends talking about the man, 49-year-old Allen Peters, whose bad choice altered the course of her life so drastically. “I remember talking to my dad when I was still in Erie in intensive care and hearing everyone talk about wanting [Peters] to get sentenced,” she said. “But in the back of my mind, I thought, ‘He probably needs more help than I do. He needs more help than anyone.'”

Peters was arraigned and pleaded guilty in the spring of 2011. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Unfortunately, Peters had no insurance on the vehicle he was driving, so Cameron’s family has had to bear the responsibility of her treatment and therapy.

Hockey's Kristen Cameron Makes Paralysis Recovery

While Peters is in jail, Cameron is trying to figure out how to live inside her “new body.” She is paralyzed from the chest down, and does not have use of her fingers, but that doesn’t stop her from being workout crazy, just like she was prior to the accident. Cameron can be found most days in the gym of the assisted living facility where she resides, working out her shoulders, deltoids, and biceps.

Hockey's Kristen Cameron in Physical Therapy

Through her recovery, she has kept a positive attitude and never given up, although she admits there have been some lows. This year she attended the 2011 Women’s Frozen Four at Mercyhurst. From a private viewing room above the ice, the reality sunk in. “I was supposed to be there that year…. Everything set in; I saw what I was missing out on,” says Cameron.

Kristen Cameron Recovers Her Mobility

But she’s not giving up, not by a long shot. Cameron is eying a new wheelchair that will enable her to stand up, which just may get her back into the game as a coach. She’s also considering a wheelchair bike, which will allow her to continue her triathlon training.

Hockey Star Kristen Cameron Recovers from Paralyzing Injuries

“Just being able to get my body into as good of a place as it can be, that keeps me going,” Cameron said. “But a big thing is that, through all of this stuff … hearing how many people at home are thinking about me and have given money to my family. There are so many people that I don’t even know that help out. Those people, from what I’m told, all think that I inspire them and to me, if I inspire them, that’s what motivates me to keep working.”


Image sources:

Adorable, Yes; But Baby-sized Wheelchairs Help Them Learn

mobility for baby provided by a robotic baby wheelchair

It may just be the most adorable video you see all day, but there also is solid science behind the baby-sized wheelchairs that are being used in research at the University of Delaware. The special needs children using them are getting a chance to explore their surroundings that they would have otherwise missed.

Babies’ brains and behavior are built upon exploration and discovery of the world around them. Most babies do this by crawling and then walking, but infants born with disorders such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or autism often miss the chance to explore due to their physical limitations. The research is being led by James C. Galloway, associate professor of physical therapy, and Sunil Agrawal, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware. Together, they have developed tiny robots that are controlled with joysticks, allowing infants the ability to maneuver and explore the world around them.

If these infants were adults, therapists would have options of assistive technology such as power wheelchairs,” stated Galloway. “Currently, children with significant mobility impairments are not offered powered mobility until they are 5-6 years of age, or older. This delay in mobility is particularly disturbing when you consider the rapid brain development during infancy. Their actions, feelings and thinking all shape their own brain’s development. Babies literally build their own brains through their exploration and learning in the complex world.”

University of Delaware invents wheelchair mobility for babies

The biggest barrier to this type of technology is caregivers’ concerns for safety. When asked about safety concerns, especially considering babies as young as seven months were found to be able to operate the joystick mechanism.

This is, of course, understandable, and is the same fear that every parent with a newly walking infant faces,” Galloway stated. “It is the solution to the safety problem that is the real barrier. The current clinical practice is to avoid power mobility until the child can follow adult commands. Your parents didn’t wait until you followed their every command before they let you walk–they held your hand, they required you to stay near them and alerted you to obstacles in your way. This is the way infants learn real world navigation, and it is exactly these safety features that are being built into our mobile robot.

Our first prototype, affectionately called UD1, was designed with smart technology that addresses each of these safety issues so that infants have the opportunity to be a part of the real world environment,” Agrawal said.

The wheelchair has safety sensors positioned all around the ring, which determine if the space the infant is moving into is obstacle free. If it is not, it will determine if the infant can bump into the obstacle or if it should take control and drive around the obstacle itself. The next prototype will build on current technology and allow an adult to have an over-ride control of the device.

In this way, we can bind technology and human need together to remove barriers for movement in the environment,” Agrawal said.

When I saw his little robots, it was easy to envision a baby driving one,” he said. “We knew from our previous work that newly reaching infants could use a joystick to control a distant toy. This and other research strongly suggests that very young infants can be trained in real world navigation. It was a special feeling to see a potential solution to a really serious health-care gap for young kids. There was and still is a special tingle when we think of the not so distant future.”


Image sources:

Cerebral Palsy in Rabbits Reversed with Nanotechnology

rabbits used in a study to cure cerebral palsy

There are a number of different factors known to cause cerebral palsy. These include genetic mutations, infection, fetal stroke, and complications during delivery. A new study has identified a way of curing cerebral palsy caused by maternal inflammation and infection, by delivering a medication directly to the brain.

Researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Perinatology Research Branch of the National Institutes of Health used rabbits to test a new treatment using N-acetyl-L-cysteine or NAC, an anti-inflammatory sometimes used for people who overdose on acetaminophen. Rabbits were chosen for testing because, as in humans, part of their brains develop after birth.

Pregnant rabbits were exposed to bacteria that caused cerebral palsy in their offspring. A low dosage of NAC was delivered directly to the brains of day-old rabbits via a nanodelivery method, which uses small molecules, known as dendrimers. This method allowed the NAC to cross the blood-brain barrier and attack the swelling of the brain. According to Sujatha Kannan, the lead author of the study, newborn rabbits treated with NAC using nanodelivery showed “dramatic improvement in motor function” within five days of their birth. Next, they hope to study if the improvements last into adulthood.

example of a dendrimer, nanotechnology device to deliver medicine

Cerebral palsy affects about 750,000 children and adults within the United States alone. Nearly 3.3 out of every 1,000 births in the United States results in the condition. It will likely be many years before it is determined that this treatment would be safe for use in human newborns, but the research shows that early intervention can have a positive effect on brain damage.

Cerebral Palsy in Rabbits Reversed with Nanotechology

Cerebral Palsy in Newborn Rabbits Reversed with Nanotechology

“The importance of this work is that it indicates that there is a window in time, immediately after birth, when neuroinflammation can be identified and when treatment with a nanodevice can reverse the features of cerebral palsy,” said the study’s co-author Roberto Romero, an obstetrician at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

“One of the challenges, however, is that cerebral palsy is typically not diagnosed until age 2. By the time we make the diagnosis there is very little we can do,” said Romero, describing cerebral palsy as “a lifelong condition with no cure.”

Whether the treatment could be effective for older children or adults will still have to be considered. But experts feel that the study offers hope that nanomedicine may be the future of treatment for a variety of other brain injuries, including stroke, multiple sclerosis, meningitis, and encephalitis.

For more information about this research along with a video, please visit Detroit Medical Center’s Cerebral Palsy research page at


Image sources:

Woman with Disabilities Sues Johnny Depp over Concert Assault

actor johnny depp, who is being sued by a disabled woman

Johnny Depp is well known for his preference of being left alone in public, but a recent lawsuit aimed at the actor accuses his security team of taking things too far. The plaintiff in the case is a University of California-Irvine medical professor who walks with a cane for assistance due to her disabilities from spondyloarthritis (vertebral inflammation) and fibromyalgia (widespread pain and joint stiffness).

According to court documents, the plaintiff was attending a recent Iggy and the Stooges concert at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. When she tried to return to her seat in the VIP section, she was blocked by Depp’s security detail.

the Hollywood Palladium, where the disabled plaintiff says she was assaulted

According to the plaintiff, the guards insisted she use another entrance to the VIP area only accessible by stairs. She claims that when she explained this was impossible due to her disability and that her cane was left at her seat, the guards initially yielded. She alleges that at this point Mr. Depp personally got involved and began “supplying direct supervision and management of his security guards and directing their current and future actions.”

The plaintiff claims that the security guards then grabbed her and took away her cell phone, then handcuffed her and dragged her through the theater, causing injury to her body and pulling down her pants. She claims that the security guards roughed her up so badly that she suffered from possible broken bones, a dislocated elbow, bleeding, and swelling.

The lawsuit is seeking a $25,000 civil penalty against Mr. Depp and the Hollywood Palladium. Other charges in the lawsuit include negligence, premises liability, assault, false imprisonment, and discriminatory practices.


Video source:

Image sources:

Stem Cell GABA Neurons May Aid in Huntington’s Disease Cure

a GABA neuron cell, which controls mobility

Over 30,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, which is characterized by uncontrollable muscle spasms. This debilitating congenital neurological disorder has no treatment, and over time takes away muscle coordination and cognitive abilities of the patient. However, new stem cell research using stem cells may give hope to those with the disease.

The cause of Huntington’s disease can be found in GABA neuron cells, which produce a chemical neurotransmitter responsible for the communication network in the brain that coordinates movement. In Huntington’s patients, the GABA neuron cells degrade, causing a disruption in key neural circuitry, and resulting in the loss of motor function.

Neuroscientist Su-Chun Zhang, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison specializes in making various types of brain cells from human embryonic cells. A recent research study co-authored by Zhang used large amounts of GABA neurons made from human embryonic stem cells. The research goal was to see if these cells could integrate into the brain of a mouse with Huntington’s-like symptoms.

lab mice

The success of the trial went much further than this, and to the surprise of Zhang and his colleagues, the cells not only integrated, but projected to the proper target and reestablished the broken communication network. The result was restoration of the motor function in the mouse.

“This circuitry is essential for motor coordination, and it is what is broken in Huntington patients. The GABA neurons exert their influence at a distance through this circuit. Their cell targets are far away,” explained Zhang. “Many in the field feel that successful cell transplants would be impossible because it would require rebuilding the circuitry. But what we’ve shown is that the GABA neurons can remake the circuitry and produce the right neurotransmitter.”

brain scans comparing normal with Huntington's patient

Neuroscientists typically considered the adult brain to be very stable, but this research shows that the adult brain may be more malleable than originally thought. For patients with Huntington’s, which has no effective treatment, this is exciting news. However, Zhang stresses that the research, while promising, will take quite some time to test and perfect in humans.


Image sources: