Paralyzed man walks again using implants connecting brain with spinal cord

A 40-year-old man whose legs were paralyzed in a cycling accident 12 years ago can walk again thanks to implants in his brain and spinal cord.

The brain-spinal interface (BSI) remained stable for a year, allowing Garrett John Oscum to stand, walk, climb stairs and cross complex terrain. A study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.. Even when the BSI stops, Oskam regains some control over his legs.

“My desire was to walk again and I believed it was possible,” Oskam said during a news briefing.

Oskom had an accident in China and thought he would be able to get the help he needed when he went home to the Netherlands, but the technology wasn’t advanced enough at the time, Oskom said.

Oscam had previously participated in a trial by Grégoire Cortine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology who also worked on the new research, according to the study’s authors. In 2018, Cortine’s team found that the technology could stimulate the lower spinal cord and help people with spinal cord injuries walk again. After three years, Oscam’s improvement plateaued.

For the latest study, the research team restored communication between Oscam’s brain and spinal cord through a digital bridge. Oscum participated in 40 sessions of neurorehabilitation throughout the study. He said he is now able to walk at least 100 meters (328 feet) or more at a time, depending on the day.

Garrett John Oscum can walk with the help of a digital bridge that connects his brain and spine.

CHUV / Gilles Weber

“We’ve taken Garrett John’s ideas, and translated those ideas into spinal cord stimulation to reestablish voluntary movement,” Cortine said.

The researchers said the next step would be to miniaturize the hardware needed to operate the interface. Currently, Oscom keeps it in a bag. Researchers are also working to see if similar devices can restore arm movement.

In recent decades, there have been many advances in the treatment of spinal cord injury. A study published in Nature in February found that electrical pulses delivered to the spinal cord can help. Improve arm and hand movement after stroke.

The researchers who helped Oskom believe the technology they used could also restore movement in arms and hands in the future. They also think that, with time and resources, they can use the advances to help stroke patients.

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