CNN has published a new study that reveals how one man who was paralyzed for more than 10 years after his injury, walked again using a medical device.
Dr. Gregoire Courine and his colleagues at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, developed and implanted the 'brainspine interface' which creates a neurological link directly between the spinal cord and the brain. The implanted units in the brain are used to track movement intentions, which is wirelessly transmitted to an external processing unit, such as a backpack, that the person wears. The processing unit converts the intentions into commands, which are then sent back to the second implant through the second device.
Researchers published in Nature on Wednesday, the findings of a study that involved a participant from the Netherlands.
Gert-Jan Oskam was paralyzed by a motorbike crash in China over a decade earlier. His arms, legs and trunk were all affected.
Oskam told journalists at a press briefing this week that he wished to be able to walk again. He believed it was possible. I tried many different things, but now, it's time to learn to walk normally again.
Oskam can stand for several minutes without touching his hands and walk up to 100 meters. He says it helps him in his everyday life. For example, he said he painted something recently without any help.
Prior research has shown that electrical pulses targeted to specific areas of the leg can stimulate those needed for walking.
Researchers say that this new technology allows for more fluid movements and better adaptations of changing terrain, because it connects two regions in the central nervous system which were disrupted by a spinal injury.
Oskam was implanted previously with stimulation devices, but had to move to activate the stimulation.
He said, 'Now I can do whatever I want and the stimulation will kick-in when I make a decision to take a step.'
Courtine stated that this stimulation was different, because Oskam 'has full control over the parameters of stimulation', meaning he is able to stop, walk and climb stairs.
The neurological communication channels quickly established themselves after the surgeries to implant devices. Oskam began taking action within one day of the training.
The connection was reliable for over a year. This includes the time Oskam spent in his home. The 'digital link' helped him walk independently and regain strength.
Oskam, the first patient in the trial was optimistic about the future. This research confirms that it is possible to re-create a neurological connection between the brain, spinal cord and other organs. The connection occurs quickly. They say that expanding the scope of this connection could help people with arm and hand paralysis, or stroke victims. They would like to shrink the size of the device to make it more mobile.
Researchers wrote: 'The concept that a digital link between the brain, spinal cord and muscles will usher in a new age of treatment for motor deficits caused by neurological disorders'