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Monday, 5 June, 2023

Brain–spine interface allows paralysed man to walk using his thoughts – Nature.com

Twelve years ago, a cycling accident left Gert-Jan Oskam, now 40, with paralysed legs and partially paralysed arms, after his spinal cord was damaged in his neck. But these days, Oskam is back on his feet and walking, thanks to a device that creates a ‘digital bridge’ between his brain and the nerves below his injury1.

The implant has been life-changing, says Oskam. “Last week, there was something that needed to be painted and there was nobody to help me. So I took the walker and the paint, and I did it myself while I was standing,” he says.

The device — called a brain–spine interface — builds on previous work2 by Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and his colleagues. In 2018, they demonstrated that, when combined with intensive training, technology that stimulates the lower spine with electrical pulses can help people with spinal-cord injuries to walk again.

Oskam was one of the participants in that trial, but after three years, his improvements had plateaued. The new system makes use of the spinal implant that Oskam already has, and pairs it with two disc-shaped implants inserted into his skull so that two 64-electrode grids rest against the membrane covering the brain.

When Oskam thinks about walking, the skull implants detect electrical activity in the cortex, the outer layer of the brain. This signal is wirelessly transmitted and decoded by a computer that Oskam wears in a backpack, which then transmits the information to the spinal pulse generator.

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