He was able to stand and walk, thanks to a device that created a “digital bridge” between his brain and the nerves below his injury.
Courtesy | Gert-Jan had an operation in which two implants were placed.
12 years ago, a bicycle accident left Gert-Jan Oskam paralyzed in his legs and his hands partially immobilized after he damaged the spinal cord in his neck.
Now, thanks to cutting-edge brain technology, the quadriplegic has managed to stand and walk, thanks to a device that created a “digital bridge” between his brain and the nerves below his injury.
The treatment was led by a team of Swiss and French scientists who made an extraordinary breakthrough in nerve surgery, and the findings were published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.
The researchers consider this process to be the first human-machine connection or interface trained by artificial intelligence.
The advance was introduced at the Vaud University Hospital Center (CHUW) in the city of Lausanne, Switzerland, where the first patient it was tested on, a 40-year-old Dutchman named Gert-Jan Oscum, walked in front of him. Journalists…
“Four years ago I never dreamed of something like this happening,” said the man who was excited to be able to walk.
Oscam was invited in 2016 by scientific institutions in Switzerland to participate in the program, which had previously been tested on apes, but had not been tested on humans until then.
The device, called a brain-spine interface, builds on previous studies by Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, and his colleagues.
In 2018, they showed that, when combined with intensive training, a technique that stimulates the lower spine with electrical pulses can help people with spinal cord injury walk again.
The implant changed her life, Oscum said: “Last week, I needed to paint something and there was no one to help me. So I took a walker and painted, and I did it by myself standing.”
He was one of the participants in that trial, but after three years, his reforms stalled.
The new system uses the spinal cord implant Oscum already has and inserts it into his skull with two disc-shaped implants so that two grids of 64 electrodes rest against the membrane covering the brain. Can
how the device works
Gert-Jahn performed the operation in which two implants were placed: one in the spinal cord, and the other more complex, an interface or connector between the human brain and a computer that collects and transmits brain stimuli via 64 electrodes. Translates to digital data. Thanks to artificial intelligence in this second case, after the learning phase of both humans and machines.
When Oscam thinks about walking, the skull implant reveals electrical activity in the cortex, the outer layer of the brain.
This signal is wirelessly transmitted and decoded by a computer worn in the backpack, Oscam, which then transmits the information to a spinal pulse generator.
After receiving these implants, the patient was asked, in a phase that required months of training, to imagine moving his legs: in doing so, his brain emitted stimuli that, through algorithms, converted into data that is then transmitted to his implant. Spinal cord and movement will convert.
“That was the hardest part, thinking about natural motion after 10 years without trying,” Oscum admitted.
First he trained his movements on an avatar (a digital and screen version) of himself that it began to move with his thoughts, and eventually the system took over his spine.
The previous device “was more of a pre-programmed stimulus that generated robotic step movements,” said Courtine, the scientist who led the treatment, noting that “now it’s completely different, because the stimulus parameter of the patient You have full control, which means you can stop, walk, climb stairs.
After about 40 rehabilitation sessions using a brain-spine interface, Oscum regained the ability to voluntarily move his legs and feet.
Such voluntary movement was not possible only after spinal cord stimulation, and suggests that training sessions with the new device led to greater recovery in nerve cells that had not been completely dissociated during their injury.
The patient now walks with the help of a walker, and the brain-machine system, which has not yet been miniaturized, is still bulky, as it requires headphones to send its commands through waves to the patient, and rest on the walker. Requires a portable device that can Decode them before they are transmitted to the spinal cord, in two to three tenths of a second.
One of Oscum’s skull implants was removed after about five months due to an infection.
However, Bloch, the neurosurgeon at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology who implanted the device, said the risks involved are small compared to the benefits. “There’s always a slight risk of infection or bleeding, but they’re so small that it’s worth the risk,” he says.
Courtine’s team is currently recruiting three people to see if a similar device can restore hand movement.
Dutchman Gert-Jan Oscum is the world’s first paraplegic person to get up and walk naturally by controlling his legs, thanks to wireless technology developed in Switzerland that connects the brain to the spinal cord. pic.twitter.com/zP1uFjvbNc
– The National (@elnacionpy) May 25, 2023
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