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Brain And Spine Implants Enable Paralyzed Man To Walk Naturally Again

man walking next to woman with the help of walker and instrument attached to his head

Researchers recently described a system that links a paralyzed patient’s intentions to his physical actions. In 2011, while residing in China, Gert-Jan Oskam was involved in a motorbike accident that left him paralyzed from his hips downwards. Researchers have now restored his lower body’s control by using various devices. 

In a study published in the scientific journal Nature, Switzerland, researchers reported implants that created a “digital bridge” between Mr. Oskam’s brain and the spinal cord, thereby avoiding damaged areas. Mr. Oskam, 40, was able to use a walker and only stand, walk, and climb a high ramp, thanks to the finding. He still possesses these skills over a year after the implant was put in, and he had even displayed evidence of neurological healing, walking with aids even when implants were turned off. 

Neuroscientist “Jocelyne Bloch” of the University of Lausanne, who implanted Mr. Oskam with the device, continued, “It appeared to be science fiction in the early stages for myself. However, it became true now.” 

As per New York Times, The researchers first implanted electrodes in Mr. Oskam’s spine and skull to achieve this outcome. The researchers subsequently utilized a machine-learning program to determine which brain regions lit up when he attempted to move various bodily parts. This thinking decoder could correlate specific goals with the activity of specific electrodes: When Mr. Oskam attempted to reposition his hips or ankles, a different arrangement flashed up, and the reverse occurred.  

The spinal implant was programmed to transmit electrical signals to various regions of his body, causing movement, and the researchers employed another algorithm to link the brain implant to it. The programmer was able to consider minor differences between each muscle’s relaxation and contraction speed and direction.

Additionally, Mr. Oskam could swiftly modify his method based on what was working and what wasn’t because the data between the spinal cord and the brain were sent every 300 milliseconds. He was able to rotate his hip muscles after the first treatment session.  

Additionally, he started observing noticeable changes in his movement with the help of the brain-spine interface after a year of therapy. These improvements were noted by the researchers in tests of carrying weight, balancing, and walking. 

Now, Mr. Oskam can get out and out of a car, walk around his residence in a limited way, and stand at an establishment to order a drink. He claimed that he now felt responsible for the first time. 

The researchers noted that their work had limitations. Even while the existing brain-spine interface is appropriate for walking, it is difficult to distinguish subtle goals in the brain, and it is likely impossible to restore upper body movement with it. The procedure is invasive and necessitates many operations and extensive physical therapy. Not every spinal cord paralysis is cured by the current system. 

However, the scientists hoped that future developments would make the treatment increasingly available and consistently efficient. Our main goal, according to Dr. Courtine, is to make this kind of equipment accessible to all patients who require it worldwide. 

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