A man who was paralyzed 10 years ago was able to stand up and walk with a frame after doctors implanted a device that reads brain waves and sends instructions to the spinal cord to activate muscles, CNN writes.
Gert Jan Oskam, 40, was told he would never walk again after breaking his neck in an accident in China. However, since the operation, the man has been able to climb stairs and walk distances of over 100 meters at a time. The “digital bridge” between the brain and the spinal cord is the achievement of a team of scientists in Switzerland participating in a program that aims to develop an interface capable of helping paralyzed people.
Dr. Grégoire Courtine and his colleagues at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have developed and implanted an interface that produces a direct neurological link between the brain and the spinal cord. Implants in the brain record movement intentions, which are then wirelessly transferred to an external processing unit worn by the patient in the form of a backpack.
The intentions are then translated into commands and sent by the processing unit to the second implant, which stimulates the muscles.
The case was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday and highlights the success of a Dutch man participating in the program.
Gert-Jan Oskam became paralyzed 10 years ago, no longer able to move his legs, hands and torso.
“I wanted to be able to walk again, and I thought it was possible,” Oksam told reporters. “Now I have to learn to walk normally again, naturally, because that’s how the system works.”
Oskam says he can walk at least 100 meters, depending on the day, and can stand upright without supporting himself with his hands for several minutes. He says that this progress has helped him in his daily life. For example, he says that he recently needed something painted, but he couldn’t find a person to help him, so he got up and painted it himself.
Previous research has shown that properly directed electrical impulses can stimulate areas in the feet necessary for walking. The new technology allows for more natural movements and better adaptation to different environments, because it reconnects two areas of the central nervous system.
Gert-Jan Oskam has had pacing devices implanted before, but they needed movement to trigger the pacing. “Now I can do whatever I want, when I decide to take a step the stimulation kicks in,” he says.
Dr. Grégoire Courtine says this kind of stimulation is different because Oskam has “total control over the simulation, meaning he can stop, walk, climb stairs.”
The connection between the two implants remained stable for over a year, including the time the patient spent at home. Walking independently with the help of the “digital bridge” helped Oskam regain enough strength to take a few steps even when the device is turned off.
Gert-Jan Oskam was the first participant in the study, but the researchers are optimistic about the future. What they want now is to reduce the size of the system so that it is easy to transport.
Editor : V.M.
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