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Paralysis Breakthrough

Gert-Jan Oskam can walk with the help of a digital bridge that links his brain and spinal cord.

Swiss neuroscientists have successfully utilized a brain-spine interface to enable a paralyzed man to walk using his thoughts, according to a study released yesterday. The breakthrough development expands on recent innovations using spinal implants to generate movement in patients with immobilizing spinal injuries.

Gert-Jan Oskam, a Dutch 40-year-old who was paralyzed 12 years ago (see documentary), received two brain implants and one on his spine, creating a so-called “digital bridge” across the injured nerves. A portable computer decodes his brain’s electrical signals and relays them to a spinal pulse generator, resulting in the perception that his lower body movements are voluntary. Combined with regular therapy, the procedure allows Oskam to walk and climb stairs with a natural gait aided by a walker, at times without the digital bridge activated.

The procedure further opens the possibility for victims of paralysis to regain control of their legs, with researchers hoping to reduce the size and invasiveness of the implants. Learn more about the group’s founder here.

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