DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — New research has revealed how a medical device helped a paralyzed man walk normally again more than a decade after his injury.
Dr. Gregoire Courtin and colleagues at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, developed and implanted a ‘brain-spinal cord interface’ that establishes a direct neural connection between the brain and spinal cord.
Brain implants track intentions for movement, which are wirelessly transmitted to a processing unit worn externally, similar to a backpack. Intentions are translated into commands that the processor sends through the second implant to stimulate the muscles.
The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, lead to a successful outcome for one study participant from the Netherlands.
Geert-Jan Oscam, 40, became partially paralyzed more than a decade after a motorcycle accident in China. As a result, his legs, arms and torso were damaged.
“My wish was to walk again and I believed it was possible,” Oskom said during an interview with reporters this week.
He added, “I tried many things before and now I have to learn how to walk normally again, this is how the body works.”
Oskom explained that depending on the day, he could walk at least 100 meters and stand for a few minutes without using his hands. He indicated that it was useful in his daily life.
Previous research has shown that targeted electrical pulses can stimulate areas of the leg needed for walking.
However, the new technology allows smoother movements and better adaptation to changing terrain because it reconnects two parts of the central nervous system severed by spinal cord injury, the researchers report.
Askham had previously implanted stimulation devices into his body, but he had to create a movement to activate the stimulation.
Now, he can do whatever he wants, and if he decides to make a move, he’ll start prodding, he said.
Curtin explained that this stimulus is different because Oscam “has complete control over the dimensions of the stimulus, meaning he can stop, walk and climb stairs.”
After surgeries to implant the devices, neural communication channels were quickly established, and Oskom began walking within a day of training.
The link was active for more than a year, including the time Oscom was at home. Walking independently using a digital bridge has helped him gain enough strength to take a few steps, even when it’s turned off.
Oscom was the first to take part in the trial, but the researchers are optimistic about future possibilities.
This study confirmed the possibility of re-establishing the neural connection between the brain and the spinal cord, and that this connection occurs quickly.
“The concept of a digital bridge between the brain and spinal cord represents a new era in the treatment of movement disorders caused by neurological disorders,” the researchers noted.
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