AI helps paralysed man walk after 12 years simply by using his thoughts

    In what can be called a breakthrough, a group of researchers has connected two regions of the central nervous system that were separated after a spinal cord injury.

    Paralysed Gert-Jan Oskam walking with the help of AIGert-Jan Oskam, a man paralysed from the waist down since 2011, regained the ability to walk for the first time in his life, thanks to the scientists’ work. (Express Image/Instagram)

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    The present is certainly interesting, as we are living right in the middle of the artificial intelligence boom. Anyone who may be unaware of these sweeping changes, is probably living under a rock. In the past few weeks, we saw some extraordinary facets of AI technology. Since the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google, Microsoft, Meta, and many more have joined the AI bandwagon. Each new day, a new use case and a new possibility keep the tech fraternity moving. 

    We have reported on the brisk developments of AI-powered software, tools and even humanoid robots. Researchers have even gone on to the extent of using AI-backed tools for mind reading and dream interpretations. Now, it seems another insane capability of AI is going to revolutionise healthcare. In what can be called a monumental achievement, scientists from Switzerland helped a paralyzed man gain control over his lower body with the help of AI. 

    Gert-Jan Oskam, a man paralysed from the waist down since 2011, regained the ability to walk for the first time in his life, thanks to the work of these European scientists. The 40-year-old gained control over his limbs by just using his thoughts and this was possible due to two implants that revived the connection between his brain and spinal cord. “They told me, no, we can’t help you. I could move my arms and they said, be happy with this. But, I never believed that I couldn’t walk anymore,” Oskam told AFP. 

    The breakthrough

    The team of researchers from France and Switzerland found a novel way to develop a digital bridge between Oskam’s brain and spinal cord. This bridge bypassed all the injured sections and helped him in walking again. Oskan was paralysed in 2011 after he met with a bicycle accident. This breakthrough is reportedly the hard work of the scientists that lasted for over 10 years.

    Gregoire Courtine, a neuroscientist from the team, said that they were able to restore communication with a digital bridge which transforms thoughts into action. This was done by implants in the region of the brain that usually controls the muscles of the legs. The implants capture the thoughts of the individual and transform them into electrical activations for the spinal cord to activate the muscles of the legs, the way people normally move to walk. In essence, Oskam was a cyborg with a web of implants to fix the central nervous system, quipped the scientist while talking to the media. 

    The scientists said that their ultimate goal was to improve the quality of Oskam’s life. They said that for now, Oskam may not walk normally the way most of us do. However, this was the first time in the history of mankind that two regions of the central nervous system were reconnected after being separated following a spinal cord injury. 

    A unique digital bridge

    “The participant reports that the brain–spine interface (BSI) enables natural control over the movements of his legs to stand, walk, climb stairs and even traverse complex terrains. Moreover, neurorehabilitation supported by the BSI improved neurological recovery. The participant regained the ability to walk with crutches overground even when the BSI was switched off. This digital bridge establishes a framework to restore natural control of movement after paralysis,” read the research paper published in Nature.

    The development certainly will give a renewed sense of optimism for many and the healthcare industry worldwide. However, the researchers also said that it may take several years for the technology to be widely accessible. 

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    First published on: 26-05-2023 at 20:46 IST

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