For the first time ever recorded, a paraplegic has had his walking ability restored by using his own brainpower—without relying on a walking aid device or a manually controlled robotic limb. The new research was published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.
Study researcher Dr. An Do says, “Even after years of paralysis the brain can still generate robust brain waves that can be harnessed to enable basic walking. We showed that you can restore intuitive, brain-controlled walking after a complete spinal cord injury.”
The 26-year-old man was previously unable to walk after a spinal cord injury five years ago. He was left with complete paralysis in both of his legs.
The study participant was able to walk a 3.66-meter course using an electroencephalogram (EEG)-based system—also called a noninvasive brain computer interface (BCI) system. It uses electrical signals from the patient’s brain. The signals then travel to electrodes placed at the knees of the man to generate movement.
To prepare for the walk, the man underwent mental training and tests for a 19-week period. The training helped the man reactivate the walking ability in the brain. The participant wore an EEG cap to read brainwaves while seated. This allowed him to control an avatar in a virtual reality atmosphere. Physical training also helped strengthen and recondition his leg muscles.
Also, while suspended five centimeters above the ground, the man practiced walking. This allowed him to use his legs without supporting himself. He was able to convert the suspended exercise to walk on ground. To prevent falls, he wore a body-weight support system.
According to the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Zoran Nenadic, “Once we’ve confirmed the usability of this noninvasive system, we can look into invasive means, such as brain implants. We hope that an implant could achieve an even greater level of prosthesis control because brain waves are recorded with higher quality. In addition, such an implant could deliver sensation back to the brain, enabling the user to feel their legs.”
Sources for Today’s Article:
King, C.E., et al., “The feasibility of a brain-computer interface functional electrical stimulation system for the restoration of overground walking after paraplegia,” Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation 2015; 12(1), doi: 10.1186/s12984-015-0068-7.
“Man walks again after years of paralysis,” ScienceDaily web site, September 23, 2015; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150923213931.htm.