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    Paralyzed Man Walks Again With Brain-Spine Implants

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    A Dutch man who was paralyzed from the hips down after a motorcycle accident 12 years ago can walk again with the help of electronic implants that connect his brain and spinal cord, bypassing the injured sections.

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    Gert-Jan Oskam, 40, received the experimental brain-spine interface in July 2021 as part of a study led by researchers in Switzerland. The device consists of two disc-shaped implants in his brain that track his intentions for movement and wirelessly transmit them to a processing unit that he wears like a backpack. The unit then sends commands back to a second implant around his spinal cord that stimulates his leg and foot muscles.

    The system allows Mr. Oskam to control his movements more naturally and smoothly than previous technologies that relied on external triggers or electrical pulses. He can now stand, walk and climb stairs with only the assistance of a walker. He has also shown signs of neurological recovery, walking with crutches even when the implant was switched off.

    “It has been a long journey, but now I can stand up and have a beer with my friend. It’s a pleasure that many people don’t realize,” Mr. Oskam said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

    The researchers, who published their findings on Wednesday in the journal Nature, said the device was the first to establish a direct link between the brain and spinal cord in a paralyzed person. They hope to test it on more patients and eventually make it available to more people with spinal cord injuries.

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    “We’ve captured the thoughts of Gert-Jan, and translated these thoughts into a stimulation of the spinal cord to re-establish voluntary movement,” said Grégoire Courtine, a spinal cord specialist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, who helped lead the research.

    Jocelyne Bloch, a neuroscientist at the University of Lausanne who placed the implant in Mr. Oskam, added, “It was quite science fiction in the beginning for me, but it became true today.”

    The device is one of several advances in technological spinal cord injury treatment in recent years. In 2016, a group of scientists led by Dr. Courtine was able to restore the ability to walk in paralyzed monkeys, and another helped a man regain control of his crippled hand. In 2018, a different group of scientists, also led by Dr. Courtine, devised a way to stimulate the brain with electrical-pulse generators, allowing partially paralyzed people to walk and ride bicycles again. Last year, more advanced brain stimulation procedures allowed paralyzed subjects to swim, walk and cycle within a single day of treatment.

    Reference

    • Brain and Spine Implants Allow Paralyzed Man to Walk Naturally Again | The New York Times | May,24,2023
    • Brain implants help paralysed man to walk again | BBC News | May,26,2023
    • Brain implant helps paralyzed man walk again with mind control | CNET | May,25,2023

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