A brain–spine interface device has helped restore mobility in a man who suffered a cycling accident, leaving him paralysed in his legs and partially paralysed in his arms. The device builds on earlier work by Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. A spinal implant was combined with two skull implants allowing electrical signals from the brain to transmit to the spine stimulation device that creates the movement.
After 40 rehabilitation sessions using the device, Gert-Jan Oskam had the ability to move his legs voluntarily and walk. The previous device created pre-programmed stepping movements. With the new system, Gert-Jan has full control over the stimulation. Gert-Jan can walk short distances without the device using crutches.
A neuroscientist found the development a huge jump towards improved function in those with spinal-cord injuries. It is suggested that there is also still room for stem cells or similar technologies to improve outcomes further. Notably, the device does not address other functions such as bladder and bowel control, highlighting other opportunities for research.
Infection remains a risk with the use of the implants, and the neurosurgeon at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology who implanted the device suggests the risks involved are small. Courtine’s team is recruiting for a similar device to restore arm movements.