A 40-year-old man whose legs were paralyzed in a bicycle accident 12 years ago can walk again thanks to implants in his brain and spinal cord.
The brain-spine interface (BSI) remained stable for a year, allowing Geert-Jan Oskam to stand, walk, climb stairs and traverse complex terrain, according to A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. Oscam even regains some control of his legs when BSI is turned off.
“My wish was to walk again, and I think it is possible,” Oscam said during a press briefing.
Oscam had been in the accident in China and he thought he would be able to get the help he needed when he returned home to the Netherlands, but the technology wasn’t advanced enough for that at the time, Oscam said.
Oscam was previously involved in an experiment conducted by Gregoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology who also worked on the new research, according to the study authors. In 2018, Curtin’s team found that the technology could stimulate the lower spine and help people with spinal cord injuries walk again. After three years, Oscam’s improvements subsided.
In the latest study, the research team reconnected Oscam’s brain and spinal cord with a digital bridge. Oscam participated in 40 neurorehabilitation sessions over the course of the study. He said he is now able to walk at least 100 meters (328 feet) or more in one go, depending on the day.
“We took the ideas of Gert Jahn, and translated those ideas into stimulation of the spinal cord to re-establish voluntary movement,” Curtin said.
The researchers said the next advance will be miniaturization of the hardware needed to run the interface. Currently, Oskam carries it in a backpack. The researchers are also working to see if similar devices can restore arm motion.
There have been a number of advances in the treatment of spinal cord injuries in recent decades. A study published in Nature in February found that electrical impulses directed to the spinal cord can help.
The researchers who helped Oskam believe that the technology they used could, in the future, restore movement in the arms and hands as well. They also believe that with time and resources, they can use the advances to help stroke patients.
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