Technology Neuroscience: a paraplegic manages to walk again by controlling the movement of his legs by thought

Neuroscience: a paraplegic manages to walk again by controlling the movement of his legs by thought

This is a scientific advance that will give a lot of hope to paralyzed people. A Dutchman, paralyzed in the legs for more than ten years, can walk again. The program was developed by French and Swiss researchers.

On the videos that accompany the scientific publication in the journal Nature, Wednesday, May 24, a man can still be seen moving slowly, supported by a walker. This man, whose name is Gertjan Oskam, has had his legs paralyzed for more than ten years following an accident. This Dutchman stands and walks again, with just brain power and a bit of technology.

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Research has taken a new step to help paralyzed people walk again. A Franco-Swiss team from the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), the École polytechnique, the University and the CHU of Lausanne publish, Wednesday, May 24, a new study which shows that their program based on a brain interface -machine works better and better.

“The objective was to show that a paraplegic patient could control the movement of his legs in a natural way, explains Guillaume Charvet, Head of the Brain-Machine Interface program at the CEA. We say natural because the patient can control the movement of the right leg and the left leg”.

“He can also control, in amplitude, the movement of each of his legs and the rhythm of his steps.”

Guillaume Charvet, from the Atomic Energy Commission

at franceinfo

To do this, electrodes were implanted, on one side, in the patient’s brain and on the other, in his spinal cord below the area that was damaged during the accident with, to make the link between the two areas, a computer bridge.

So far, this technique has only been used to improve walking in a paraplegic person, but the researchers say it could also be used to restore arm and hand function.  (Jimmy Ravier)

“The idea is to come and capture cerebral electrical activity on the surface of the motor cortex, it is to then transfer, wirelessly, to computers that will decode this cerebral electrical activity in real time to generate movement predictions. These movement predictions are then converted into stimulation sequences which make it possible to generate stimulation at the level of the spinal cord, thus making it possible to reactivate the muscles of the legs of this paraplegic patient”.

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A first study on this device had been published in 2018 but at the time, the system required recording the stimuli while this time, everything is done live. The information barely takes 500 milliseconds to be transmitted, which is a speed equivalent to what happens to an able-bodied person. The next step for these researchers is to miniaturize this system and offer it to as many patients as possible, by industrializing its manufacture.

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