A Dutch man who was left paralyzed from the waist down from a traffic accident in 2011 is able to walk again after doctors gave him brain and spine implants — along with a "digital bridge" device that reads his brain waves and tells his body what to do.
Gert-Jan Oskam, age 40, broke his neck when he crashed his motorcycle while living in China 12 years ago, and doctors told him he would never walk again, according to The Guardian. But an experimental program led by neuroscientists in Switzerland have proved those doctors wrong.
"For 12 years I've been trying to get back my feet," Oskam said in a press briefing yesterday, via The New York Times. "Now I have learned how to walk normal, natural."
In a study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers in Switzerland described implants that provided a "digital bridge" between Mr. Oskam's brain and his spinal cord, bypassing injured sections. The discovery allowed Mr. Oskam, 40, to stand, walk and ascend a steep ramp with only the assistance of a walker. More than a year after the implant was inserted, he has retained these abilities and has actually showed signs of neurological recovery, walking with crutches even when the implant was switched off.
"We've captured the thoughts of Gert-Jan, and translated these thoughts into a stimulation of the spinal cord to re-establish voluntary movement," Grégoire Courtine, a spinal cord specialist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, who helped lead the research, said at the press briefing. …
In the new study, the brain-spine interface, as the researchers called it, took advantage of an artificial intelligence thought decoder to read Mr. Oskam's intentions — detectable as electrical signals in his brain — and match them to muscle movements. The etiology of natural movement, from thought to intention to action, was preserved. The only addition, as Dr. Courtine described it, was the digital bridge spanning the injured parts of the spine…
Now, Mr. Oskam can walk in a limited way around his house, get in and out of a car and stand at a bar for a drink. For the first time, he said, he feels like he is the one in control.
Read details about the study in Nature.