In 1996, Jan Scheuermann, a successful businesswoman and mother of two, began to notice her legs were not quite moving along with the rest of her body. A visit to the doctor revealed that she suffered from spinocerebellar degeneration, a rare genetic disease where the brain gradually loses connection to body muscles. By 2003, Jan had lost all ability to control her limbs and was paralyzed from the neck down.
The 55-year-old’s life changed in 2012 after she was selected for a neuromotor experiment run by University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in collaboration with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Prosthetics program. The scientists began by developing two-quarter inch square electrode grids with 96 contact points that would help relay messages from the brain to a hi-tech robotic arm. In February 2012, after scanning Jan’s brain to determine the optimal position, the researchers implanted the electronics into her left motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls the right arm and hand.
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