Life-changing tech helps paralyzed patient move robotic arm

For more than a decade, an injury left Erik Sorto unable to use his arms or legs. But now life-changing technology has given him the freedom he never thought he'd have again, reports CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano.

"I wanted to jump around and high five and hug everybody because we knew that it worked," Sorto said.

Paralyzed from the neck down after being shot 13 years ago, Sorto can now think about a movement in his mind, and then make it happen effortlessly.

Erik Sorto with the Caltech research team
Lance Hayashida/Caltech

Neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Liu performed brain surgery on Sorto two years ago at USC's Keck Hospital. He implanted a pair of electrodes in the region of the brain where the initial intent to make a movement is formed.

"Since it had never been done before there was a bit of a leap of faith in terms of just seeing if these were in fact the right areas," Liu said.

Two chips in Sorto's brain are connected to wires and a series of computers which decode his intentions and move a prosthetic arm. Until now technologies have only produced jerky, delayed movements, but scientists say this new approach makes them much more natural.

"You don't really thinking about moving the muscles or the joints, you really think about, 'I want to pick up that glass of water,'" Caltech Professor of Neuroscience Richard Andersen said.

Sorto is the first in the world to have this new neural prosthetic device. The 34-year-old was even able to pick up and drink a beer on his own.

"I want to be able to brush my own teeth. Yeah. That's the next goal," he said.

Two other patients also joined the clinical trial. Researchers hope to develop additional neural implants that could simulate a touch sensation in paralyzed patients.