New Technology Cures Paralysis With Brain Implant

A brain implant has cured paralysis, allowing a patient to walk up stairs.

By TeeJay Small | Published

artifcial intelligence

Despite fears regarding economic insecurity and global warming, modern science has ensured that today is the best time in human history to be alive, especially for those facing disabilities of any sort, as we strive to provide more accessibility and assistance to those in need. One such example comes to us courtesy of The Guardian, with a report that a 40-year-old man who was paralyzed back in 2011 has been granted the ability to stand and walk using an implanted brain device. This device reads brain waves and sends instructions to the central nervous system through the spine in order to push the muscles, hopefully rendering paralysis a thing of the past!

The man in question, Gert-Jan Oskam, was told he would never walk again for the rest of his life after his neck was broken during a cycling accident more than 10 years ago. The traffic accident left Oskam with lifelong paralysis after colliding with a motor vehicle on a Chinese road, though the experimental new brain implant has allowed him the miraculous ability to climb stairs and walk more than 100 meters at a time. Oskam, who originally hails from The Netherlands, has stated that the device would be exponentially helpful to himself and others facing paralysis with minimal fine-tuning.

The paralysis-curbing implant is being called the digital bridge by a team of Swiss neuroscientists who have been developing this technology for decades. The machine utilizes wireless signals from within the brain to reconnect muscles that have been rendered unusable due to severe injury. Previous trials yielded positive results but left much to be desired in terms of the rhythmic abilities of the implant’s users, making movements seem jilted and robotic.

human brain

After recent fine-tuning, neuroscientists have achieved normal-looking rhythm and gait patterns to achieve a carefree stroll aesthetic, allowing disabled users a path toward overcoming paralysis while looking as natural in their movements as possible. Professor Grégoire Courtine of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne explained in a recent interview that the digital bridge simply re-establishes communication between the spinal cord and the wireless network of brain activity that controls the nervous system. Though the technology seems like something plucked directly from Star Trek, it could soon be employed to assist those with paralysis the world over.

Even for those not facing permanent paralysis, the digital bridge boosts rehabilitation by allowing those in physical therapy greater ease of access in taking steps toward correcting their injuries. Oskam, for example, had severed most of the nerves within his spine during his 2011 accident, but after a series of trials with the implant, he was able to regain a small amount of control over his legs even when the device was not active, meaning the device assists in regenerating spinal nerves in order to regain some level of attachment and control among patients.

Of course, some forms of paralysis are very different than others, leaving scientists with a lot of additional work ahead of them. Regaining some bodily functions, such as those which impact the bladder, may be more difficult to crack than basic neurological repairs, as many different systems of the body are utilized in the process. Regardless of where this technology goes next, it is currently serving those suffering from paralysis and allowing them to live relatively normal lives.