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Amazing Discovery: Wireless Brain Implant Help Paralyzed Monkeys Walk Again

Nov 10, 2016 04:20 AM EST

Patients with paraplegia may soon walk by themselves again as a team of scientists restored the leg movements of monkeys with the help of wireless brain implants.

The results of their experiments, published in the journal Nature, showed that repairing the broken path of communication between the spine and the brain, which is caused by an injury or a disease, could help people with paraplegia regain controls of their legs.

"What's key here is that we stimulate to induce the desired movement of the animal," said Grégoire Courtine, professor of neural engineering at école polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne and lead author of the study, in a report from CNN. "Over the past decade, we've spent a lot of energy understanding how the spinal cord can be stimulated."

For their experiment, the researchers used two wireless implants. The first implant is located in the brain and acted as sensor, while the second was implanted on either side of the injury on the spine and served as nerve stimulator.

These two implants work together to rebuild the damage in the communication path between the brain and the spine. In a healthy individual, the brain creates signals that travel down the nerves in the spinal cord to reach the nerves in the leg muscle. These signals carry the command to walk.

The implants work the same way. However, instead of going through the spine, the general information of the signals sent by the brain were extracted and fed wirelessly into a computer. The computer will then decode the signals and send the new messages to the second implant.

The second implant will stimulate certain nerves within the legs by releasing a few impulses of electricity based on the commands from the brain and computer. By stimulating certain nerves, specific muscles within the legs could be activated to move and flex.

The researchers noted that the implants might take a while before reaching clinical availability. However, the results of their experiment are very promising. The implants help the monkeys with paraplegia walk again without months or even weeks of training.

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