A paralyzed man who was immobile from the shoulders down was able to walk again thanks to an exoskeleton that was controlled by signals sent from his brain.
Researchers, co-led by Alim-Louis Benabid, a neurosurgeon and professor at the University of Grenoble, France, fitted a four-limb robotic system on the man and using a harness mounted to the ceiling to give him balance, enabled the patient to use sensors implanted close to his brain to send messages to move his limbs.
The milestone happened after a two-year trial
The 28, year-old underwent a two year trial of the robotic system to achieve the goals published in journal The Lancet Neurology. During those two years, he engaged in a series of mental tasks to train the system to understand what he was thinking and which movements to make. As time went on the number of messages he could send increased.
"Ours' is the first semi-invasive wireless brain-computer system designed for long term use to activate all four limbs," said Professor Alim-Louis Benabid, President of the Clinatec Executive Board, a CEA laboratory, and Professor Emeritus from the University of Grenoble, France. "Previous brain-computer studies have used more invasive recording devices implanted beneath the outermost membrane of the brain, where they eventually stop working. They have also been connected to wires, limited to creating movement in just one limb, or have focused on restoring movement to patients' own muscles."
The 28-year-old male, had tetraplegia following a C4-C5 spinal cord injury. He was implanted with two bilateral wireless epidural recorders, each of which had 64 electrodes. They were implanted over the upper limb sensorimotor areas of the brain.
Work is being done all of the world to help people walk again
"These results showed long-term (24-month) activation of a four-limb neuroprosthetic exoskeleton by a complete brain-machine interface system using continuous, online epidural ECoG to decode brain activity in a tetraplegic patient. Up to eight degrees of freedom could be simultaneously controlled using a unique model, which was reusable without recalibration for up to about 7 weeks," the researchers wrote in a release highlighting the results.
Researchers in France aren't the only ones looking at technology's role in helping people walk again. This week scientists from Intel, the semiconductor company and Brown University, joined forces to create an AI-driven technology to assist paralyzed people to feel and move. The research, being funded by a $6.3 billion grant from DARPA, will be aimed at creating an AI-based spinal interface that will enable people with spinal cord injuries to move their limbs and regain control of their bladder.