In 2020, scientists created a device that gives paralyzed people the ability to speak via brain signals. This time, they’ve one-upped themselves, creating technology that has allowed a man with a completely severed spinal cord to walk and swim again!
This breakthrough study, published in Nature Medicine, was carried out on three patients. The greatest success story is Michel Roccati, who became paralyzed in 2017 from a motorbike accident from the waist down. “It was a very emotional experience,” Roccati told journalists when he was able to walk again.
How does the implant work?
The implant that assisted his recovery works by sending electrical pulses to his muscles, basically stepping in for the job that the brain usually does. With this brain mimicking technology and four months of physiotherapy, he was able to walk with only a frame for balance.
“It’s not that it’s a miracle right away, not by far,” stated Gregoire Courtine, who led the research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Only the start
There are still improvements needed before the widespread use of the technology, like miniaturizing the implants. Plus, a deeper understanding of implant patient outcomes is required. For example, it seems like people who receive this treatment sooner after their accident see more successful results. This was observed in the study, with the two other participants not progressing as fast as Roccati in their recovery so far.
Researchers hope that in the future paralyzed people, even with severe injuries, will be able to regularly stand, walk, and exercise again. This breakthrough study serves as hope for paralyzed people, with this being the first a person is able to walk again after having their spinal cord completely broken.
There is also a potential application for sufferers of severe Parkinson’s disease. Studies using the implants for this purpose are planned to go forward in the near future.
“We believe there is a bright future for neurological stimulation technology,” said Courtine. “We’ll do (it) as fast as we can.”
Source study: Nature Medicine – Activity-dependent spinal cord neuromodulation rapidly restores trunk and leg motor functions after complete paralysis