the neuroscientist Gregoire Courtinefrom the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL), together with neurosurgeon Jocelyne bloch, from the EPFL University Hospital Center of Vaud (both in Switzerland), have been researching for years so that people with damaged spinal cords can walk again. In 2018, they achieved that three men paralyzed for several years achieve this objective, after introducing them implants in the spinal cord.
Now, a team led by both researchers has developed a wireless technology that has allowed people to walk again. gert-jana 40-year-old Dutch man who, a decade ago, suffered the paralysis of his legs due to spinal cord damage after a bicycle accident.
“We have created a ‘digital bridge’ between the brain and the spinal cord, through a brain-computer interface [BCI]which transforms thought into action with algorithms artificial intelligence”points out Courtine, leader of the study published in Nature.
[La terapia pública española que permite “algo mejor que caminar” a los lesionados medulares]
The authors explain that this technology allowed the patient to regain natural control of the movement of his paralyzed legs. In addition, after several rehabilitation sessions with the BCI, the team quantified notable improvements in their sensory perceptions and motor skills that were maintained even when the device was turned off.
In this sense, Andrea Galvez SolanoEPFL researcher and first signatory of the work, comments to SINC that “the novelty of the BCI is that the patient can control the stimulation —and therefore the movements— directly through their thoughts.”
According to Galvez, “this means that it is able to take longer or shorter steps, walk on different surfaces and even climb stairs, adapting to the environments of everyday life. It is likely that the simultaneous firing of neurons above and below the lesion, which allows the interface, together with specific rehabilitation sessions, favor neurological recovery and improve the patient’s clinical picture”, he emphasizes.
To establish the digital bridge, two types of electronic implants were needed. Bloch explains: “We have implanted electrodes, developed by the research center CEAon the region of the brain that controls the movement of the legs”. These devices allow us to decode the electrical signals that the brain generates when we think about walking. Also “we place a neurostimulator connected to an electrode array on the region of the spinal cord responsible for of the lower extremities”.
for his partGuillaume Charvetresponsible for the BCI program at the CEA, comments that “thanks to the use of adaptive artificial intelligence algorithmsthe patient’s movement intentions are decoded in real time from brain recordings.”
Then “these intentions become electrical stimulation sequences spinal cord, which in turn activate the leg muscles to achieve the desired movement. This digital bridge works wirelessly, which allows the patient to move autonomously,” the expert underlines.
Gert-Jan says that, after ten years, he has recovered the pleasant feeling of being able to share a beer standing in a bar with his friends: “This simple pleasure represents a significant change in my life,” he says with satisfaction.
So far, the BCI system has only been tested with it. However, according to Galvez, “in the future, a similar strategy could be used to restore the arm and hand functions. And it could also apply to other neurological problems, such as paralysis due to stroke“.
The company ONWARD Medicaltogether with CEA and EPFL, has received support from the European Commission through its European Innovation Council to develop a commercial version of the digital bridge, with the aim of making the technology available worldwide.
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