Remarkable footage has captured a paralyzed man walking for the first time in 12 years – only with the power of his mind.
Gert-Jan Oskam, 40, from the Netherlands suffered a devastating cycling accident while working in China in 2011. It robbed him of his ability to move his legs.
But a groundbreaking electronic implant has enabled him to regain control of his legs.
Heart-warming images show Gert-Jan standing, walking and even climbing stairs after being equipped with the mind-reading device.
Gregoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), who worked on the research, described the “massive” technology as a “digital rebirth” of the spinal cord.
The incredible moment when a paralyzed man was able to walk for the first time in 12 years has been captured on camera
40-year-old Gert-Jan sustained a spinal cord injury after a bicycle accident in which he became paralyzed. But thanks to a new electronic implant, he has regained control over his legs
Spinal cord injuries can interrupt communication between the brain and the area of the spinal cord that controls walking, leading to paralysis.
Previous studies have tried to restore movement in people with this type of paralysis by electrically stimulating parts of the spinal cord.
However, this required wearing motion sensors and patients showed limited mobility in various tasks and terrains.
Instead, the EPFL team came up with a new approach, using electronic implants to develop a “wireless digital bridge” between the brain and spinal cord.
One implant is placed in the patient’s brain, above the area responsible for leg movements.
Meanwhile, the second is placed on the area of the spinal cord that controls leg movement.
Professor Jocelyne Bloch, an author of the study, said: ‘These devices decode the electrical signals generated by the brain when we think about walking.’
The brain signals are then converted into sequences of electrical stimulation of the spinal cord.
This in turn activates the leg muscles to achieve the desired movement.
One implant is placed in the patient’s brain (pictured), above the area responsible for leg movements, while the second is placed in the area of the spinal cord that controls leg movements
Professor Jocelyne Bloch, an author of the study, said: ‘These devices decode the electrical signals generated by the brain when we think about walking’
Signals from the brain are converted into sequences of electrical stimulation of the spinal cord. This in turn activates the leg muscles to achieve the desired movement
Best of all, the system works wirelessly, allowing the patient to move independently.
After the implants were placed in Gert-Jan’s brain and spinal cord, the system was calibrated within minutes and he has now been able to use it at home for over a year.
Although Gert-Jan can stand, walk and climb stairs independently thanks to the system, he joked that it was best for him to stand at the bar and have a beer with his friends.
“This simple pleasure represents a major change in my life,” he said.
Amazingly, even with the digital bridge turned off, the researchers saw ‘remarkable improvements’ in Gert-Jan’s motor skills.
“This digital repair of the spinal cord suggests that new nerve connections have formed,” they said.
So far, the digital bridge has only been tested on one person, but the team now hopes to roll it out to other people.
“Extending the concept of a digital bridge to the cervical spinal cord could also restore arm and hand movement after spinal cord injury and stroke,” they concluded.
After the implants were placed in Gert-Jan’s brain and spinal cord, the system was calibrated within minutes and he has been using it at home for over a year now
Although Gert-Jan was able to stand, walk and climb stairs independently thanks to the system, he joked that it was best for him to stand at the bar and have a beer with his friends.
What are the Most Common Causes of Paralysis?
Strokes are the most common cause of paralysis, accounting for 29 percent of all cases.
When the blood supply to the brain is cut off, the organ becomes damaged, which “impedes its relationship with the spinal cord.”
Together, the brain and vertebrae control movement.
Spinal cord injuries make up 23 percent of paralysis cases.
These usually occur as a result of car accidents, falls, sports injuries, and violence.
Other common causes of paralysis include:
- Multiple sclerosis (17 percent)
- Cerebral palsy (seven percent)
- Post-polio syndrome (five percent)
- Traumatic brain injury (four percent)
- Neurofibromatosis (four percent)
- Birth defects (two percent)
Source: Spinal Cord. com