Paraplegic man walks again with brain implants – 05/25/2023 – Equilibrium

Paraplegic man walks again with brain implants – 05/25/2023 – Equilibrium

A paraplegic man has been able to walk just by thinking about it thanks to electronic brain implants, a medical technology he says has changed his life.

Gert-Jan Oskam, a 40-year-old Dutchman, lost the use of his legs in a bicycle accident 12 years ago.

Electronic implants wirelessly transmit your thoughts to your legs and feet via a second implant in your spine.

The system is still in an experimental stage, but it was considered “very promising”.

“I feel like a child learning to walk again,” Oskam told the BBC.

He can also now stand and climb stairs.

“It’s been a long journey, but now I can get up and have a beer with my friend. It’s a pleasure that many people have no idea about.”

The technology, published in the scientific journal Nature, was developed by Swiss researchers.

Neurosurgeon Jocelyn Bloch, a professor at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) who performed the delicate surgery to insert the implants, points out that the system is still in the basic research stage and many years remain before it will be available for patients with paralysis.

She tells BBC News, however, that the team’s aim was to get it out of the lab and up and running as quickly as possible.

“The important thing for us is not just to run a scientific experiment, but to eventually give more access to more people with spinal cord injuries who are used to hearing from doctors that they have to get used to the fact that they will never have movement again.”

Harvey Sihota is chief executive of the British NGO Spinal Research, which was not involved in the research. According to him, although there is a long way to go before the technology is available, it is “very promising”.

“While there is still much room for improvement with these technologies, this is another promising step forward in the field of neurotechnology and its role in restoring function and independence to our spinal cord injury community.”

Surgery to restore Gert-Jan’s movement was performed in July 2021.

Bloch drilled two circular holes on each side of his skull, 5 cm in diameter, above the regions of the brain involved in controlling movement. Then he inserted two disc-shaped implants that transmit wireless brain signals – Gert-Jan’s desires – to two sensors attached to a helmet on her head.

The Swiss team developed an algorithm that translates these signals into instructions to move the muscles in the legs and feet via a second implant inserted around Gert-Jan’s spinal cord – which Bloch linked to nerve endings related to the act of walking.

The researchers found that after a few weeks of training, the patient was able to stand and walk with the aid of a walker. Its movement is slow but smooth, according to Professor Grégoire Courtine, from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), who led the project.

“Seeing him walk so naturally is very moving,” he said. “It’s a paradigm shift from what went before.”

The brain implants build on Courtine’s earlier work, when only the spinal implant was used to restore motion. The spinal implant amplified weak signals from the brain to the damaged part of the spine and was driven further by pre-programmed signals from a computer.

In 2018, BBC News reported how David M’zee was the first patient to benefit from the spinal implant, so much so that he was able to have a baby with his wife, something previously not possible.

And last year Michel Roccati became the first person with a completely injured spinal cord to walk as a result of the technology.

Both benefit greatly, but the walking movement is pre-programmed and feels robotic. They also have to keep their intended movements in sync with the computer, as well as stop and reset them if they get out of sync.

Gert-Jan had only the spinal implant before having the brain implants. He says he now has much greater control. “Before I felt like the system was controlling me, but now I’m controlling it.”

Neither the old nor the new systems can be used constantly. They are bulky and still in the experimental phase.

Instead, patients wear them for about an hour a few times a week as part of their recovery.

The act of walking trains your muscles and restores some degree of movement when the system shuts down, indicating that the damaged nerves may be growing back.

The ultimate goal is to miniaturize the technology. Onward Medical, Professor Courtine’s company, is making improvements to commercialize the technology so that it can be used in people’s daily lives.

“It’s coming,” says Courtine. “Gert-Jan received the implant 10 years after the accident. Imagine when we apply our brain-spine interface a few weeks after the injury. The recovery potential is tremendous,” he concludes.

This text was published here

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