In a remarkable breakthrough, a paralyzed man has regained the ability to walk, climb stairs, and even enjoy time with friends at a bar, all thanks to a team of dedicated neurosurgeons and neuroscientists in Switzerland, that created a special wireless “digital bridge” that restored communication between the man’s brain and spinal cord.
This incredible technology (known as a brain-computer interface) involves two electronic implants — one in the brain and another in the spinal cord: The brain implant is carefully positioned to decode the electrical signals produced when the patient thinks about walking.
Similarly, the spinal cord implant targets the region responsible for controlling leg movements so together, they’re able to repair the broken connection between the brain and the spinal cord, allowing movement to occur.
According to ABC7 Chicago, the first recipient of this innovative treatment was Gert-Jan Oskam, a 40-year-old engineer from the Netherlands who had experienced paralysis due to a spinal cord injury from a bike accident. The results were astounding: Within days of the implants being calibrated, Oskam noticed improvements.
He could control his hips within minutes, and with dedicated training, he achieved remarkable milestones like walking, climbing stairs, and maneuvering ramps — even the simple joy of standing at a bar with friends was restored and the best part is that the implants remained effective for over a year, providing Oskam with newfound independence (even when he was unsupervised at home).
Adaptive AI helps to interpret movement intentions
The technology behind this achievement is truly fascinating — it uses adaptive artificial intelligence to interpret movement intentions from the brain in real time. Once the relevant signals are identified, they are converted into electrical stimulation for the spinal cord, activating the leg muscles and enabling the desired movements.
What’s even more astonishing is that Oskam experienced continued improvements in his sensory perceptions and motor skills, even when the digital bridge was switched off, which suggests that the treatment not only repaired his spinal cord but also promoted the growth of new nerve connections.
This breakthrough not only offers hope to paralyzed individuals but also holds promise for the restoration of arm and hand functions in the future.
The collaboration between Swiss medical and scientific institutions, such as Lausanne University Hospital, the University of Lausanne, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (along with the contribution of the French Atomic Energy Commission in developing the implants) has opened up incredible possibilities in the field of neurorehabilitation.
We celebrate this fantastic achievement, which brings us one step closer to transforming the lives of individuals affected by paralysis.