Paralysed man walks again thanks to groundbreaking thought-controlled implants

Gert-Jan from the Netherland.
Gert-Jan from the Netherland. Copyright AFP
By Euronews with AFP
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A paralysed man has regained the ability to walk using only his thoughts thanks to new technology that restored communication between his brain and spinal cord.

A man paralysed in a bike accident 12 years ago is able to walk again thanks to two implants that restored communication between his brain and spinal cord.


The patient Gert-Jan, who did not want to reveal his surname, said the breakthrough had given him "a freedom that I did not have" before.

“Within five to ten minutes I could control my hips like they were real," Gert-Jan said. 

The advance is the result of more than a decade of work by a team of researchers in France and Switzerland.

Last year, the team showed that a spinal cord implant - which sends electrical pulses to stimulate movement in leg muscles - had allowed three paralysed patients to walk again.

But they needed to press a button to move their legs each time.

The latest research combines the spinal implant with a new technology called a brain-computer interface, which is implanted above the part of the brain that controls leg movement.

The interface uses algorithms based on artificial intelligence methods to decode brain recordings in real time, the researchers said.

This allows the interface, designed by researchers at France's Atomic Energy Commission, to work out how the patient wants to move their legs at any moment.

Gert-Jan walking again thanks to two implantsAFP

The data is transmitted to the spinal cord implant via a portable device that fits in a walker or small backpack, allowing patients to get around without help from others.

The two implants build what the researchers call a "digital bridge" to cross the disconnect between the spinal cord and brain that was created during Gert-Jan's accident.

"Now I can just do what I want - when I decide to make a step the stimulation will kick in as soon as I think about it," Gert-Jan told a press conference in Geneva.


It has "been a long journey to get here," he added, after undergoing invasive surgery twice so both devices could be implanted.

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