A 40-year-old man whose legs are paralyzed is able to climb stairs, move over ramps and switch from standing to walking, thanks to implants in his brain and spinal cord that pair with external devices to translate his thoughts into movement.
The experiment was part of a proof-of-concept study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
The patient, Gert-Jan Oskam, suffered a spinal cord injury from a motorbike accident 12 years ago.
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"When we met him, he was completely paralyzed, unable to take a step by himself without assistance," said Grégoire Courtine, the study’s author and a neuroscientist at EPFL, a research university in Switzerland.
In 2017, Oskam received an experimental implant in his spinal cord as part of a different clinical trial, which helped him regain his ability to walk. By lifting his heel slightly — which he could do on his own — Oskam would trigger an electrical current that stimulated nerves in his spinal cord to allow him to take steps. But those steps were clunky, and he couldn't navigate around obstacles or walk on uneven surfaces.
And, after two years of this electrical nerve stimulation, as the approach is known, Oskam's recovery plateaued. So he joined the proof-of-concept study in 2021.
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