A paraplegic person has regained his natural control of the ability to walk by thinking, a feat achieved for the first time thanks to the combination of two techniques that have made it possible to restore communication between the brain and the spinal cord.
With the words "I've regained some freedom," patient Gert Jan, who did not want to give his last name, summed up how he feel: The 40-year-old Dutchman can stand up and move around spaces of diverse nature and even climb stairs.
Grat suffers a spinal cord injury at the level of the cervical vertebrae as a result of a bicycle accident 10 years ago. Explaining the results of a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, Swiss surgeon Jocelyn Blok, a professor at the University Medical Center Vaud, explained that the man "could not initially put one foot in front of the other."
Before Gret, walking was again possible for a number of other patients who could not move their legs, but the new study shows that the Dutch man was the first to regain the ability to control the movement of his legs and the rhythm of his steps by thinking.
This achievement was achieved by combining two techniques implanted in the brain and spinal cord of Great, researcher Guillaume Charvet of the Commission for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies, one of the parties involved in the project, told AFP.
This was achieved as a result of 10 years of research conducted by teams in France and Switzerland.
The spinal cord protected by the spine is an extension of the brain and controls a large number of movements, and damage to the brain's communication subsequently makes it irreparably unable to perform these movements.
In an attempt to address this problem, the paralyzed patient implanted above the brain area responsible for leg movements electrodes invented by the Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy Commission.
These electrodes allow them to decode the electrical signals generated by the brain when a person thinks about walking. At the same time, a nerve stimulus attached to a field of electrodes was placed over the area of the spinal cord that controls the movement of the legs.
Thanks to AI-based algorithms, movement intentions can be decrypted in real time from brain recordings. These intentions are then converted into electrical sequences to stimulate the spinal cord, which in turn activates the leg muscles to achieve the desired movement.
The data is transmitted via a portable system placed on a treadmill or in a small backpack, allowing the patient to dispense with any outside help.
So far, the installation of a single implant that electronically stimulates the spinal cord has allowed patients with hemiplegia to walk again. But controlling this walk was not natural. What is new this time is the digital bridge between the brain and the spinal cord that not only allowed Yan to move, but also enabled him to voluntarily control his movements and their range.
Gregoire Courtin, a French neuroscientist, a professor of neuroscience at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, said: "It's radically different from what has been found so far." "Patients before walked very hard, but now they (the patient) only need to think about walking in order to take a step," he said.
The Dutchman described what he went through to be able to stand up again and walk for several minutes in a row as a "long journey", as he underwent two surgeries to place the two implants.
Another important progress was recorded, as after 6 months of training, he seems to have regained part of his sensory and motor abilities.
Guillaume Charvet of the Commission for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies said: "These results suggest that the creation of a link between the brain and spinal cord would promote the reorganization of neural circuits at the injury level."
When asked if the technology would be accessible to everyone who needed it soon, he replied that "it will take many years of research" before it is rolled out. But teams are preparing to launch an experiment to restore arm and hand function with the same technology. The researchers also hope to apply it to other clinical conditions, including stroke-induced paralysis.