Scientists explained that the system used in the process is able to translate the thoughts of the man into movements by bypassing the injured spinal cord and communicating directly with the brain.
A paper on the research was published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation early this week.
The device that helped the man walk again uses computer power to simulate electrodes placed on the man’s knees and make his legs move again when the brain commands it to. The University of California team explained that such ‘brain-to-computer’ interface has great potential, and may also ease the recovery of impaired stroke patients by offering them limited mobility.
Nevertheless, the team acknowledged that more research needs to be done and that the system is not ready for clinical applications. Biotech researcher Zoran Nenadic and lead author of the research said that the technology does work and can help a paraplegic patient with spinal injuries to regain brain-controlled mobility.
The patient who first tested the system is a former graduate of the university whose spine was severely damaged after a motorcycle accident. Scientists even made a video with the feat but the achievement seems modest. The man managed to ‘walk’ about 12 feet but he needed help from a walker to keep his body in straight position and an overhead harness to prevent his whole body weight from putting too much pressure on his legs.
Researchers explained that the man managed to ‘walk’ again despite not being able to feel a thing in his legs or feet. The recent experiment was based on the team’s another achievement. A year ago, they were able to direct brain signals through a computerized system to a robotic prosthesis in a volunteer’s leg and generate movement.
Brain-to-computer tech also allowed paraplegic subjects with a robotic arm to reach for a cup of coffee and raise it to their mouths.
But the recent research began in 2010 when the 28-year-old man had the accident. This year, the man had to be trained for months to be able to imagine how it would be to walk again and produce the necessary movement brain waves to make the system work.
The brain waves were detected by an ECG machine that beamed the data to a computer. The machine picked only the brain waves that commanded the man’s legs to move and transmitted these signals to his leg muscles.
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