A huge new discovery could have tremendous implications for humans who have suffered devastating spinal injuries.
It could prove to be on of the biggest discoveries of 2016: scientists were able to develop a brain implant that can recreate electrical signals in the spine, allowing monkeys to regain use of their legs. Today, paralyzed people who have suffered from spinal trauma can’t use their legs at all because the signal between the brain and the muscles has been permanently severed, but this could present a dramatic new opportunity for helping patients walk again.
An international team of scientists found a way to bypass the injury and reconnect the brain signals using electrodes on an undamaged part of the spine. They tried this on two monkeys who were temporarily paralyzed in one leg, using the technique to help them walk again. And it’s not far-off technology either: it could be used on humans within a decade, according to a statement from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.
Scientists essentially found a way to decode signals from the motor cortex and convert them into electronic signals with a device that would fire electrodes and stimulate the spinal nerves.
“This is the first time that neurotechnology restores locomotion in primates,” says EPFL neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine who led the collaboration. “But there are many challenges ahead and it may take several years before all the components of this intervention can be tested in people.
“To implement the brain-spine interface, we developed an implantable, wireless system that operates in real-time and enabled a primate to behave freely, without the constraint of tethered electronics,” added Courtine. “We understood how to extract brain signals that encode flexion and extension movements of the leg with a mathematical algorithm. We then linked the decoded signals to the stimulation of specific hotspots in the spinal cord that induced the walking movement.”