Along with a small group of pioneers, Kennedy had in the late 1980s developed “Invasive” human brain-computer interfaces-literally wires inside the brain attached to a computer, and he is widely credited as the first to allow a severely paralyzed “Locked-in” patient to move a computer cursor using her brain.
In 1996, after tests in animals, the FDA agreed to allow Kennedy to implant his electrodes into locked-in patients with paralysis so severe they could no longer speak or move.
Kennedy personally oversaw the implantation of the electrodes in at least five subjects, and his team began showing that if it recorded from just a few neurons, patients could move a cursor on a computer screen and communicate by picking words or letters from a menu.
The side effects were very serious, but Kennedy says he recovered and returned for a second 10-hour procedure in Belize City several months later so the surgeon could implant electronics that would let him collect signals from his own brain.
“Talk about walking the walk!” David Jayne, an ALS patient implanted by Kennedy’s team in the early 2000s, said in an e-mail. Kennedy had hoped to live with the implants in his brain for years, collecting data, improving his control, and publishing papers.
After a few weeks of collecting data, last January Kennedy was forced to ask doctors at a local Georgia hospital to remove the implants.