A paraplegic man was able to use his own legs to walk again—without depending on a robotic exoskeleton.
This amazing feat was possible with the help of a computer that read signals from the patient’s brain and then sends messages through an algorithm to the electrodes in his legs, which stimulates movement. The man was paralyzed from the waist down due to a spinal cord injury—but was able to use his own legs to walk again for the first time in five years with an electroencephalogram-based system.
In the proof-of-concept study, the patient first underwent 19 weeks of physical and mental training, where he wore an electrode cap and learnt to send the right brain signals. He did this by training to control an avatar in a virtual reality environment. After extensive physical training to strengthen his muscles, the patient was ready to practice walking. First while being suspended above ground, so he could freely move his legs without needing to support his own weight. He was eventually able to walk on the ground while wearing a walking frame to stop him falling over.
So far, this method has only be tested on this one man, but the findings detailed in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation are an important step. Previous methods that have helped paraplegic patients walk again heavily depended on a robotic exoskeleton. Researchers hope to test this non-invasive method on a larger group of paraplegic patients.