Source: New York Daily News
A man who was completely paralyzed in both legs is the first paraplegic to walk without the help of manually-controlled robotic limbs, according to researchers from the University of California Irvine.
They determined it was “possible to use direct brain control to get a person’s legs to walk again,” according to a preliminary study published Thursday in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.
Doctors hooked the man (who was kept anonymous to protect his privacy) up to an electroencephalogram (EEG) system that took electric signals from his brain and sent them shooting down to electrodes placed around his knees. “Even after years of paralysis, the brain can still generate robust brain waves that can be harnessed to enable basic walking,” Dr. An Do, one of the study’s lead researchers, said in a statement. “We showed that you can restore intuitive, brain-controlled walking after a complete spinal cord injury. This noninvasive system for leg muscle stimulation is a promising method and is an advance of our current brain-controlled systems that use virtual reality or a robotic exoskeleton.”
The 19-week testing period kicked off by “reactivating” the participant’s walking ability through mental training. First, he sat wearing an EEG cap and entered a virtual world where he had to make an avatar walk. The man then graduated to walking while suspended almost 2 inches from the ground, where he could move his legs without the pressure of supporting himself. On his 20th visit, he was finally able to walk on the ground wearing a “body-weight support system” that kept him from falling, the study said.
Researchers said “he gained more control and performed more tests” with each visit. Because the study involved a single patient, they also said further tests are needed in order to determine if these results will apply to a larger population of paraplegics.
A video of the test shows the participant moving his legs slowly but surely and walking along a 12-foot course.
“Once we’ve confirmed the usability of this noninvasive system, we can look into invasive means, such as brain implants,” senior lead researcher Dr. Zoran Nenadic said in a statement. “We hope that an implant could achieve an even greater level of prosthesis control because brain waves are recorded with higher quality. In addition, such an implant could deliver sensation back to the brain, enabling the user to feel their legs.”