A paralysed man has been able to walk simply by thinking about it thanks to electronic brain implants, a medical first he says has changed his life.
Gert-Jan Oskam, a 40-year-old Dutch man, was paralysed in a cycling accident 12 years ago.
The electronic implants wirelessly transmit his thoughts to his legs and feet via a second implant on his spine. The system is still at an experimental stage but a leading UK spinal charity called it "very encouraging".
"I feel like a toddler, learning to walk again," Mr Oskam told the BBC. He can also now stand and climb stairs.
"It has been a long journey, but now I can stand up and have a beer with my friend. It's a pleasure that many people don't realise."
The development, published in the journal Nature, was led by Swiss researchers. Prof Jocelyne Bloch, of Lausanne University, who is the neurosurgeon who carried out the delicate surgery to insert the implants, stressed that the system was still at a basic research stage and was many years away from being available to paralysed patients.
Gert-Jan's intention to move his legs is translated by a computer programme into instructions for his leg muscles
The operation to restore Gert-Jan's movement was carried out in July 2021. Prof Bloch cut two circular holes on each side of his skull, 5cm in diameter, above the regions of the brain involved in controlling movement. She then inserted two disc-shaped implants which wirelessly transmit brain signals - Gert-Jan's intentions - to two sensors attached to a helmet on his head.
The Swiss team developed an algorithm which translates these signals into instructions to move leg and foot muscles via a second implant inserted around Gert-Jan's spinal cord - which Prof Bloch intricately attached to the nerve endings related to walking.
The researchers found that after a few weeks of training he could stand and walk with the aid of a walker. His movement is slow but smooth, according to Prof Grégoire Courtine of the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne (EPFL), who led the project.
"Seeing him walk so naturally is so moving," he said. "It is a paradigm shift in what was available before".
The brain implants build on Prof Courtine's earlier work, when only the spinal implant was used to restore movement. The spinal implant amplified weak signals from the brain to the damaged part of the spinal column and was boosted further by pre-programmed signals from a computer.
"It's coming," says Prof Courtine,. "Gert-Jan received the implant 10 years after his accident. Imagine when we apply our brain-spine interface a few weeks after the injury. The potential for recovery is tremendous"
Source BBC - https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-65689580