Paralysed Man Walks Again Through Revolutionary Brain-Spinal Cord AI Interface

In a ground-breaking scientific breakthrough, a paralysed man has regained the ability to walk. This incredible achievement was made possible through the use of a wireless “digital bridge” that re-established communication between the man’s brain and spinal cord.

The brain-computer interface, consisting of two electronic implants, holds the potential to transform the lives of individuals with spinal cord injuries.
A ground-breaking discovery
The first implant is strategically positioned above the brain region responsible for controlling leg movements. It decodes the electrical signals generated when the patient thinks about walking.

The second implant is placed on the spinal cord, specifically targeting the area that governs leg movements. These two implants work together to repair the disrupted connection between the brain and the spinal cord, effectively translating thought into action.

Gert-Jan Oskam, a 40-year-old Dutch engineer, became the first patient to undergo this ground-breaking procedure. Oskam’s life took an unexpected turn when he suffered a spinal cord injury in a bike accident while working in China back in 2011.

The injury left him paralysed, but his hope was reignited when he experienced noticeable improvements within days of the implant calibration.

Oskam expressed his astonishment at the progress, stating, “The most surprising thing I think happened after two days. Within five minutes, I could control my hips.” Through extensive training and perseverance, Oskam’s mobility gradually improved. He regained the ability to walk, climb stairs, and navigate ramps, and even enjoyed the simple pleasure of standing with friends at a bar once again. Remarkably, the implants remained effective even after a year, demonstrating their long-term viability.

The collaborative effort behind this pioneering technology involved neuroscientists and neurosurgeons from Switzerland’s Lausanne University Hospital, the University of Lausanne, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne. The implants themselves were developed by the French Atomic Energy Commission.

So, how does this remarkable technology work?
Once the implants identify the relevant signals in the brain, they translate them into sequences of electrical stimulation specifically tailored for the spinal cord. As a result, the leg muscles are activated, allowing the patient to regain control over their lower limbs.

Astonishingly, even when the digital bridge connecting the brain and spinal cord is turned off, patients experience improved sensory perceptions and motor skills. This extraordinary outcome has enabled individuals, such as the pioneering patient Gert-Jan Oskam, to walk with the aid of crutches.

Professor Gregoire Courtine, a prominent figure in the project, emphasised the profound impact of this technological breakthrough. He highlighted that the implants not only repair damaged spinal cords but also promote the growth of new nerve connections, amplifying the potential for functional recovery.

While Oskam remains the sole beneficiary of this transformative procedure to date, the digital bridge holds immense promise for a broader range of applications beyond walking. Researchers eagerly anticipate exploring its potential in restoring arm and hand functions, as well as addressing paralysis resulting from causes such as strokes.

The success achieved through this brain-spinal cord interface signals a new era of neuroscientific advancements. It provides hope to individuals with spinal cord injuries, once faced with limited mobility prospects. Now, they can envision a future free from permanent barriers that hinder their independence.

Source: BBC