Scientists find a way for paralyzed man to walk again with spinal cord and brain implants

Concept of the human nervous system.
Concept of the human nervous system. Photo credit Getty Images
By , Audacy

A new advancement has been made in the world of medicine, allowing a man with paralysis to walk once again, thanks to a medical device that doctors implanted into his spinal cord and brain.

More than a decade ago, while riding a motorbike through China, 40-year-old Gert-Jan Oskam suffered an accident that left him impaired, losing mobility in his legs and arms.

“My wish was to walk again, and I believed it was possible,” Oskam said at a briefing with journalists this week, CNN reported. “I tried many things before, and now I have to learn how to walk normal again, like natural, because this is how the system works.”

The system he is referring to is a new piece of technology called a “brain-spine interface,” which doctors at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne recently developed.

The interface, which Oskam recently had implanted, creates a neurological link between his brain and spinal cord.

The implant in the brain now tracks his intentions for movement before wirelessly transferring the message to a processing unit worn externally like a backpack. The intentions are translated into commands through the processing unit before being sent to the second implant, which stimulates the person’s muscles.

The technology has allowed Oskam to walk again, with the man sharing he can go about 330 feet, depending on the day, and stand without using his hands for a few minutes, something he couldn’t even consider doing throughout the last 10 years.

Oskam’s success with the interface has been well documented, and the findings were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Scientists have shown through previous studies that targeted electrical pulses can stimulate muscles and areas of the body to help people walk or even stop tremors caused by diseases like Parkinson’s.

But the new interface allows for smoother movements and better adaptations to changing terrain because it reconnects the spine and the brain after being disconnected due to injury, the researchers shared.

Previous implants that Oskam had weren’t quite as fluid as the one he has now either, sharing that he had to trigger the stimulation in past devices, whereas now, all he does is do it.

“Now, I can just do what I want, and when I decide to make a step, the stimulation will kick in,” he said.

Oskam was the first participant in the researchers’ trial, and they shared in their findings that they plan on expanding after seeing his success. They are also planning on making adjustments to the system to better help others with different types of paralysis and develop it to be smaller than it currently is.

“The concept of a digital bridge between the brain and spinal cord augurs a new era in the treatment of motor deficits due to neurological disorders,” the researchers wrote.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images