Spinal cord injury is often associated with severe, permanent paralysis. A complete paraplegia or significant limitations in freedom of movement are possible after an accident in which the patient’s back was affected.
However, thanks to a new implant, these patients should now be able to regain part of their movements. This new technology should even make it possible to climb stairs. The working group behind Grégoire Courtine from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne put the device into one Article on Nature.com before. However, the researchers warn against excessive expectations.
Brain signals in the radio: stimulus transmission via electrodes
Paralysis occurs when the impulse lines from the legs to the brain are severed. These lines are located in the spinal cord. In their paper, the scientists and doctors explain where they started at this point: “A spinal cord injury cuts off communication between the brain and the region of the spinal cord that allows walking, leading to paralysis. Here we re-established that communication with a digital bridge between the brain and spinal cord that allowed a person with chronic quadriplegia to stand and walk naturally.”
The brain signals that start in the brain are picked up by the implant and “translated” there into a movement. This planning of the brain is then transmitted to a computer via radio. As the researchers continue to write: “This brain-spine interface consists of fully implanted recording and stimulation systems that provide a direct connection between cortical signals and analog modulation targeting the spinal cord regions involved in the production of walking.”
A leg muscle is radioed via another implant located on the patient’s leg. This should then carry out the planned movement. Put simply, the researchers designed a translator to do the job of the spinal cord.
A cure could also be possible
As the ZDF reports, the working group tested the device on the patient Gert-Jan Oskam. At first, the 40-year-old could only walk to a very limited extent on a rollator. Thanks to the implant and twelve months of training, however, he was able to walk independently again with walking aids and even climb stairs. The scientists write: “This reliability has remained stable for over a year, even with independent use at home. The participant reports that the BSI allows natural control over the movements of his legs to stand, walk, climb stairs and even traverse complex terrain. In addition, BSI-supported neurorehabilitation improved neurological recovery.”
The researchers assume that this positive effect of training could be of a lasting nature. Because they observed that the patient was able to walk better and better “even when the BSI was switched off. This digital bridge creates a framework to restore the natural control of movement after paralysis.” According to the experts, the device thus creates the basis for an independent restoration of the stimuli.
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