This Wireless Device May Enable The Paralyzed To Walk Again
Scientists have used a wireless brain implant to bypass the spinal cord injuries of two paralysed rhesus macaques, giving them the ability to walk again.
The system – which wirelessly transmits decoded brain signals to stimulate the muscles responsible for leg movement – represents the first time a neural prosthetic has restored locomotion in a primate.
While the brain-spinal interface has only been tested on macaques so far, the team behind the research says one day the technology could help restore the ability to walk in humans paralysed by spinal cord injuries.
"The system we have developed uses signals recorded from the motor cortex of the brain to trigger coordinated electrical stimulation of nerves in the spine that are responsible for locomotion," says engineer David Borton from Brown University.
"With the system turned on, the animals in our study had nearly normal locomotion."
When we walk, electrical signals that originate in the brain's motor cortex are sent down to the lumbar region in the lower spinal cord. Once there, they activate motor neurons that help us coordinate the movement of leg muscles necessary for walking.
But injuries to the upper spine can sever this communication channel between the brain and the lower spinal cord meaning the signals can't get through to coordinate our leg movements.