By Ian Sample
A man who lost the use of his legs to a spinal cord injury has walked again after scientists rerouted signals from his brain to electrodes on his knees. The 26-year-old American has used a wheelchair for five years after an accident left him paralysed from the waist down. Doctors said he was the first person with paraplegia caused by a spinal injury to walk without relying on robotic limbs that are controlled manually.
The man walked a 3.5-metre course after being fitted with an electrode cap that picks up brain waves and beams them wirelessly to a computer, which decipher the waves as an intention to stand still or walk. The relevant command is then sent to a microcontroller on the man’s belt, and on to nerves that trigger muscles to move the legs.
The patient needed intensive training to generate recognisable walking signals in his brain, and to learn how to use the device to put one foot in front of the other. He also needed extensive physical training to build up the muscle tone in his legs.
“Even after years of paralysis, the brain can still generate robust brain waves that can be harnessed to enable basic walking,” said Dr An Do at the University of California at Irvine, who co-led the proof-of-concept study.
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