Six years ago, a team of Cleveland researchers achieved what previously seemed impossible: allowing a man who was paralyzed to move his arm again, using only his thoughts (and some high-tech help).

Their approach—a system of muscle stimulation controlled by a brain-computer interface that literally read the patient’s thoughts through the electrical activity of the brain—is now coming to life on the big screen.

The documentary I Am Human premiered in 2019 at the Tribeca Film Festival and debuted in Cleveland in January 2020, celebrating the work of researchers from Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Center at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.

The film’s premiere marked an opportunity to reflect on the incredible strides the team made—and look toward the future, as researchers have made significant enhancements in recent years. A new system, for example, uses an array of sensors surgically implanted into different brain areas along with stimulating electrodes placed directly on hand, arm, and shoulder nerves.

Funded by a $3 million grant from the Department of Defense and supported by U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, the new system may offer better function than any previous brain-computer interface or functional electrical stimulation projects—and also allow individuals living with paralysis to regain a sense of feeling in their limbs.

To learn more about the work of our Department of Biomedical Engineering at Case School of Engineering, visit their website.

To learn about the film, visit iamhumanfilm.com.