Three men who were left in paralysis of the spinal cord after a motorcycle accident can now walk again, thanks to ground-breaking research by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne.
After the operation the three patients were able to walk independently again in a matter of a days. Now they can even ride a bicycle and even swim.
How does it work?
This miracle of science has been made possible thanks to the implantation of 16 electrodes in the patients spinal cords. These electrodes produce artificial signals to link the lower limbs with the brain. The implantations not only stimulate the nerves that move the legs, but also the muscles of the abdomen and lower back.
After being implanted into the spinal cord, the electrodes connect to a computer with an artificial intelligence software. The software delivers electrical pulses to specific regions of the spinal cord activating targeted muscles. This could be particularly beneficial for patients as it will allow them to have larger span of control, as they begin to familiarise themselves with the device. Patients should also eventually be able to go out and use the technology in their daily lives, rather than in a controlled lab setting.
The procedure will now be tested in a large-scale trial in the US and Europe, where scientists hope they will eventually be able to consider that paralysis can be irreversible.
Other research by Cambridge University has also shown the effectiveness of spinal implants to treat severe pain, where a small device inserted into the spinal cord disrupts any incoming pain signals. For this particular device, researchers theorise it would be effective for targeting leg and back pain.