The system uses electrodes to collect brain signals and learn which areas of the brain become active when the patient thinks about walking.
Spotted: In a major advance, a team from Clinatec and the University of Grenoble, France, have developed an exoskeleton connected to brain sensors that has allowed a paralysed man to walk. The exoskeleton is suspended from an overhead harness. It does not allow independent motion, but is a big step forward.
Several groups of neuroscientists have been working on ways to give people with spinal cord injuries control over their bodies. However, most of these rely on inserting ultrathin electrodes into the brain, which can lead to infection and other issues. To get around these problems, the French team rested electrodes on top of the brain, keeping any potential infection outside the brain’s outer membrane.
The patient was a former optician who broke his neck in a fall four years ago. The first step was to implant two recording devices on either side of the patient’s skull. The recorders contained electrodes which collected brain signals and allowed the researchers to map which areas of the brain become active when the patient thinks about walking. Over time, the system learnt to translate specific neural patterns of activity into movement and send these commands to the exoskeleton.
The patient, referred to in the research as Thibault, reported that he “felt like the first man on the moon. I hadn’t walked for two years. I had forgotten that I used to be taller than a lot of people in the room. It was very impressive.”