Brain implants help paralysed man to walk
A MAN who was paralysed 12 years ago is learning to walk again thanks to brain implants that read his thoughts.
Gert-Jan Oskam, 40, is the first to be fitted with a system that restores communication with the spinal cord.
Electrodes in his skull detect thoughts about movement and a wireless signal is sent to a spinal implant that delivers electrical pulses to his legs.
Gert-Jan, who must carry a backpack with a computer, said: “I feel like a toddler, learning to walk again. It has been a long journey, but now I can stand up and have a beer with my friend.
“With the brain-spine interface, I can control the stimulation with my thoughts. I can decide when to start and when to stop. I’m in full control of what the stimulation does and that gives me a lot of freedom I didn’t have before.”
The Dutchman was injured in a cycling accident in China and has been working with scientists in Switzerland for six years. He can now walk up to 200 metres and stand unsupported for three minutes “on a good day”.
Gert-Jan has also climbed stairs and traversed complicated terrains.
Even with the implants switched off he can walk with crutches.
French neuroscientist Professor Grégoire Courtine said: “What has been truly remarkable is that by closing this loop between the brain and the spinal cord we further promoted the growth of new nerve fibres and this recovery is quite remarkable.
“We achieved this more than 10 years after an injury, so imagine if we applied the digital bridge a few weeks after a spinal injury.”
The team is now trying to shrink the technology and seeking to restore upper-limb use. Prof Courtine added the kit was “in its infancy, although it’s a tremendous development that was necessary to enable this digital bridge”.
The findings were published online in the journal Nature.