A paralyzed man can walk again using a groundbreaking mind-reading brain implant
A paralyzed man has regained the ability to walk using spinal cord stimulation he controls with his mind.
The novel brain-to-spine stimulation technique also allows for more fluid, natural movements.
The technology being used is similar to, but more advanced than, what Elon Musk is working on.
12 years ago, Gert-Jan Oksam was in a biking accident. He emerged alive, but unable to use his legs due to a spinal cord injury.
Today he can walk about 100 meters — or just over 300 feet— all on his own. Essentially, he's taught his spinal cord to work again thanks to some small implants in his back and brain, which have rehabilitated the connection between his legs and his mind.
"I'm not walking to the grocery market yet, but I can for sure stand way better now," the 40 year old patient said during a press conference on Tuesday.
At home, he can stand up to paint. When out and about, he can rise to the bar for a beer with friends.
"It's still hard to walk," he said. "But I'm very happy I've achieved what I achieved."
A mind-reading brain-to-computer interface makes it easier to walk smoothly
Oksam is able to walk thanks to a "brain-to-computer interface," or BCI, a cutting edge technology that is currently used by just a few dozen people worldwide. Essentially, Gert-Jan thinks of walking, stimulates his own spine to move, and retrains himself to walk again by reinforcing the key connection between his mind and his legs.
from on Vimeo.
Researchers at NeuroRestore in Switzerland, a "research, innovation, and treatment center" where Oksam was treated, call his system a "digital bridge" between the brain and the spine. Detailing their work in the journal Nature on Wednesday, they describe how surgically-implanted electrodes placed just inside his skull send his thoughts out to an antenna headset he wears. Those ideas are then processed in a backpack he's wearing, turning the ideas into a command. Finally, his intentions are translated into movement, as spinal stimulation.
And, because he's doing this all through a BCI, the movements have become far more human and less robotic than the kind of rehab that other, external spinal cord stimulation could provide.
"The introduction of the BCI has enabled this thought-controlled walking, which is smoother, more natural," Dave Marver, CEO of Onward — the company working to commercialize NeuroRestore's research — told Insider. "He's able to pause, he's able to traverse more complex terrain, he's able to climb stairs."
The system isn't something anyone could just pick up and try. In addition to the brain surgery, it takes many hours of training to calibrate this kind of BCI system to a person's unique thought processes.
"It's fighting, it's sometimes being patient," Oksam said of the process during the press conference. "You need to have time to fix and solve some problems."
Over the next 18 months, Marver says, the team is planning to implant four more patients with similar systems to Oksam's. Two have spinal cord injuries, and two will be hoping to "move their hands and arms again," he said.
"You're going to see improvements relatively quickly," Marver said of Oksam's somewhat cumbersome system, which includes a backpack plus an antenna headset he needs to wear when he's doing the stimulation.
Other BCI companies, including Elon Musk's Neuralink, have really only used BCI technology to control things, like keyboards, or computer mice. One of the most advanced systems around is Brooklyn-based startup Synchron's tiny brain implants, which help paralyzed patients use computers independently. Musk, on the other hand, has yet to implant his tech in people.
Read the original article on Business Insider