A Paralyzed Dutch Man Able To Walk Again After Brain & Spine Implants
A Paralyzed Man Can Walk Again After Brain & Spine Implants
A Dutch man whose spinal cord was injured in a bike accident a dozen years ago can now walk thanks to stimulators implanted on his brain and spinal cord, according to a study published Wednesday.
Previous versions of the spinal cord stimulation that Gert-Jan Oskam received have helped people stand and take steps, but only after first pushing a button to activate the device. The new system enables him to merely think about walking before he can do it.
Stimulation from both points reestablishes communication between the brain and the area of the spinal cord that controls leg movements, enabling more natural walking, said Grégoire Courtine, who helped lead the research. “It was quite science fiction at the very beginning but it became true today,” said Dr. Jocelyne Bloch, co-leader and a neurosurgeon at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
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After practicing for a while and perhaps because his spinal cord wasn’t completely severed, Oskam, 40, can now take a few steps on crutches, even with the stimulators turned off. With them on, “depending on the day,” he can walk 100 to 200 meters – the length of one or two football fields.
“For 12 years, I have been trying to get back on my feet,” he said on a Tuesday call with media. Being able to walk at will provides independence, particularly at home. Oskam was in his new house last week when he saw something that needed to be painted.
“There was nobody to help me, so I took the walker and did it myself as I was standing,” he said. With a stimulator just in his spinal cord, the stimulation was controlling him. Now, with devices implanted in both spinal cord and brain, “I’m controlling the stimulation with my thoughts,” he said.
Although Oskam is the only person whose results with the stimulators are published, researchers hope they will eventually help many more spinal cord injury and stroke patients get up out of wheelchairs. Standing also helps improve functions like bladder control, blood pressure and sweating.
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