Prior to the surgery, Jan had not moved anything by herself for almost 10 years (Photo : UPMC Screen Capture)
"I was a very healthy person and one day I...felt like my legs were dragging behind me," says Jan Scheuermann as she recounts the very first symptoms of her spinocerebellar degeneration diagnosis, which triggered over a decade ago.
Jan, 53, lost mobility below her neck as her condition advanced, but scientists at UPMC have helped the inspirational woman to reclaim control of her arm once again with only one catch: it's robotic.
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Spinocerebellar degeneartion, otherwise known as Friedreich's ataxia results from a defect in the gene known as Fraxtaxin, and is passed down through your parents' recessive genes. While there is currently no cure for the disease, researchers hope to use brain implants as therapeutic tools moving forward.
Two sensors were attached to the motor cortex of Jan's brain, so that she could communicate with the machine.
The University of Pittsburgh's Prof. Andrew Schwartz explains, "The way that neurons communicate with each other is by how fast they fire pulses, it's a little bit akin to listening to a Geiger counter click, and it's that property we lock onto."
The team initially assisted Jan's control of the robotic arm, but eventually turned over complete control of the appendage to her.
"Every time we do something new, it's challenging at first, and when I get 28 out of 30, or whatever the score is, and they say that was all you, that wasn't the computer doing it, I just can't stop smiling. I'm moving things. I have not moved things for about 10 years," she says in a UPMC documentary.
In the study, researchers agreed that Jan "was also able to use the prosthetic limb to do skillful and coordinated reach and grasp movements in clinically significant gains in tests of upper limb function. No adverse events were reported."
Prior to her surgery, Jan set one goal: to feed herself chocolate. Watch her achieve this mission below.
The study was originally published in the Lancet Medical Journal.