A groundbreaking medical achievement has enabled a paralyzed man to walk again simply by using his thoughts, thanks to electronic brain implants. Gert-Jan Oskam, a 40-year-old Dutch man who had been paralyzed for 12 years due to a cycling accident, underwent a surgery where electronic implants were inserted into his brain and spine.
The implants wirelessly transmit his brain signals to his legs and feet, allowing him to control his movements. Although the system is still in the experimental stage, a leading UK spinal charity called it
“very encouraging.” Describing his experience, Mr. Oskam said, “I feel like a toddler, learning to walk again.” He can now stand, climb stairs, and perform activities he thought he would never be able to do
The successful development, published in the journal Nature, was led by Swiss researchers. However, it is important to note that the technology is still in the early stages of research and will require several more years before it becomes available to paralyzed patients. The team’s ultimate goal is to move the technology out of the laboratory and into clinical settings, providing access to more people with spinal cord injuries who have been told they would never regain mobility. While there is still progress to be made, the achievement has been described as a significant step toward restoring function and independence for individuals with spinal cord injuries.
The surgery performed on Gert-Jan involved the insertion of brain and spinal implants. The brain implants, inserted through two circular holes in his skull, transmit brain signals to sensors attached to a helmet on his head. These signals are then translated into instructions to move leg and foot muscles via the spinal implant. Following several weeks of training, GertJan was able to stand and walk with the aid of a walker.
The success of this procedure builds upon previous work by Prof Grégoire Courtine, who had previously used only spinal implants to restore movement. The new brain implants offer improved control and a more natural walking motion for the patient. The technology is not yet suitable for constant use due to its size and experimental nature. Patients currently use it for short periods a few times a week during their recovery process. However, the researchers have observed that even when the system is turned off, the act of walking seems to stimulate muscle movement and may even promote nerve regrowth.
The future goal is to further refine and miniaturize the technology for everyday use. Prof Courtine’s company, Onward Medical, is working on commercializing the technology to enhance its practicality. The potential for recovery with this brain-spine interface is immense, and researchers believe it could revolutionize the treatment of spinal cord injuries.