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Groundbreaking Implants Allow Paralysed Man To Walk Again In Historic First
25 May 2023 • A paralysed man has become the first in history to regain his natural mobility through the use of implants, according to a new study. Gert-Jan Oskam was paralysed in 2011 after a motorcycle accident in China. His legs were impaired, as well as his arms and trunk.
In a study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers in Switzerland described implants that provided a “digital bridge” between Mr. Oskam’s brain and his spinal cord, bypassing injured sections. The discovery allowed Mr. Oskam, 40, to stand, walk and ascend a steep ramp with only the assistance of a walker. More than a year after the implant was inserted, he has retained these abilities and has actually showed signs of neurological recovery, walking with crutches even when the implant was switched off.
“We’ve captured the thoughts of Gert-Jan, and translated these thoughts into a stimulation of the spinal cord to re-establish voluntary movement,” Grégoire Courtine, a spinal cord specialist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, who helped lead the research, said at the press briefing.
In the new study, the brain-spine interface, as the researchers called it, took advantage of an artificial intelligence thought decoder to read Mr. Oskam’s intentions — detectable as electrical signals in his brain — and match them to muscle movements. The etiology of natural movement, from thought to intention to action, was preserved. The only addition, as Dr. Courtine described it, was the digital bridge spanning the injured parts of the spine.
The researchers acknowledged limitations in their work. Subtle intentions in the brain are difficult to distinguish, and although the current brain-spine interface is suitable for walking, the same probably cannot be said for restoring upper body movement. The treatment is also invasive, requiring multiple surgeries and hours of physical therapy. The current system does not fix all spinal cord paralysis.
Source: New York Times | Read full story