Researchers have developed what they call a wireless digital bridge between the brain and spinal cord that has helped a paralyzed man walk, stand and even climb stairs.
A study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday says a team of neuroscientists and neurosurgeons re-established communication between the brain and the spinal cord of a 40-year-old man who suffered a bicycle accident that left him paralyzed.
The researchers used brain-computer interface technology to transform thought into action, Gregoire Courtine, a professor of neuroscience in Switzerland and an author of the study, said in a news release.
This digital bridge allowed the man, named Gert-Jan Oskam, to regain control over the movement of his paralyzed legs.
Within five to 10 minutes, I could control my hips, like they were real, Oskam told The Associated Press.
Like, the brain implant picked up what I was doing with my hips, so there was like the best outcome I think for everyone.
Among the things he is now able to do, he says, is stand at a bar and share a beer with friends.
This simple pleasure represents a significant change in my life, he said in the news release about the study.
The researchers say creating this digital bridge required two electronic implants — one above the brain and another on the spinal cord — in areas responsible for controlling leg movements.
Using algorithms based on adaptive artificial intelligence, the technology converts brain recordings into electrical stimulations of the spinal cord to activate leg muscles.
So when everything is installed, the patient has first to learn how to work with his brain signals and we also have to learn how to correlate this brain signal to the spinal cord stimulation, but this is pretty short, neurosurgeon and study co-author Jocelyne Bloch said.
In a few sessions, everything is linked and the patient starts training.
The researchers say the patient showed remarkable improvements in sensory perceptions and motor skills even when the digital bridge switched off, suggesting new nerve connections have developed.
The team says researchers could use this technology to restore arm and hand function in people or in cases where a person suffers paralysis from a stroke.
The European Commission is supporting a Dutch-based company called ONWARD Medical and other partners involved in the study on a commercial version of the technology, the researchers say.