After a motorbike accident 12 years ago, Gert-Jan Oskam, 40, of Leiden, the Netherlands, lost his ability to stand and walk normally.
He can now walk again thanks to advances in brain technology after a digital implant allowed him to move his legs solely with his thoughts.
According to The Metro, neuroscientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have created what they call a “wireless digital bridge,” which is able to restore the connection lost between the brain and the spinal cord. This digital bridge is a brain-spine interface that allows Gert-Jan Oskam to regain control over the movement of his legs, enabling him to stand, walk, and even climb stairs.
This “digital repair of the spinal cord suggests that new nerve connections have developed,” claim the researchers.
“We have created a wireless interface between the brain and the spinal cord using brain-computer interface (BCI) technology that transforms thought into action.”, summarises Gregoire Courtine, Professor of Neuroscience at EPFL.
“To walk, the brain must send a command to the region of the spinal cord responsible for the control of movements. When there is a spinal cord injury, this communication is interrupted,” he said.
“When we met Gert-Jan, he was unable to take a step after a severe spinal cord injury,” said neurosurgeon Jocelyn Bloch, who is a professor at the EPFL.
“Our idea was to re-establish this communication with a digital bridge-an electronic communication between the brain and the region of the spinal cord that is still intact and can control the leg movements.”
Restoration of neurological functions
The release by the EPFL mentioned that rehabilitation supported by the digital bridge enabled Gert-Jan to recover neurological functions that he had lost since his accident. Researchers were able to quantify remarkable improvements in his sensory perceptions and motor skills, even when the digital bridge was switched off. This digital repair of the spinal cord suggests that new nerve connections have developed.
At this stage, the digital bridge has only been tested on one person. Jocelyne Bloch and Gregoire Courtine explain that, in the future, a comparable strategy could be used to restore arm and hand functions. They add that the digital bridge could also be applied to other clinical indications, such as paralysis due to stroke.