Paralyzed man: Regaining movement with brain signals "mind-blowing"

Breakthrough allows paralyzed man to move han... 03:36

When CBS News first met Ian Burkhart two years ago, a flick of his finger was a scientific breakthrough.

He hadn't moved his hands since severing his spine in a diving accident six years ago -- until he did what no quadriplegic had ever done: move his own muscles with his thoughts.

"I thought it was really crazy that we were able to move my hand originally, and now to be able to do all the different tasks that we can do, it's mind-blowing," Burkhart told CBS News' Adriana Diaz.

Mind-blowing because a paralyzed man can now play the guitar -- a toy one, but still.

"I'm most excited about the movements that are just every day movements in life... picking up a cup and pouring it into something else or picking up a credit card and swiping it through a credit card reader," Burkhart said.

They were things he thought he'd never do again, the fruit of hundreds of hours of practice. He's even surprised his research team, including engineer Nick Annetta of Battelle, the company that built the system.

"We've made a ton of progress since last time you saw us. And it's actually, it shocked us what Ian's been able to do," Annetta said.

Two years ago, a microchip was implanted into the part of Burkhart's brain that controls movement. A cable transmits the brain signals through a port in his head to a computer. The computer then decodes his thoughts about movement and beams commands to electrodes in a sleeve that stimulate his muscles like an out-of-body spinal cord.

"Does it weird you out at all that a computer is essentially reading your mind?" Diaz asked Burkhart.

"No, I'm just glad they can find something up there," he said, smiling.

But there are limitations. Burkhart has had hardware in his head for two years.

"People ever ask you about it?" Diaz asked.

"Sometimes, I think a lot of people look at it and are afraid to ask," Burkhart said.

He also has to be at the hospital for it all to work.

"Ian not being able to take home this technology when he goes back and leaves the session, that's the biggest shame of all," Annetta said.

Dr. Ali Rezai is the neurosurgeon leading the team at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He says the apparatus could become portable in a decade.

"I think there's no reason why this technology cannot be used to make somebody's who's paralyzed to walk again or somebody who's quadriplegic to move their arms routinely," Rezai said.

Ian's return to movement will be short-lived, for now. The chip will be removed when the clinical trial ends this summer.

"I wish we didn't have to... but this really is an impetus for us for future to develop more longer-term implants," Rezai said.

Burkhart said he doesn't mind.

"It might be something that I'm just helping further generations, and I'm completely fine with that," he said.

For Burkhart, any chance to outmaneuver paralysis is a move in the right direction.