A year-long research study yielded amazing results when eight people, paralyzed from the waist down from injury, were able to recover feeling and movement in their legs.
What was once thought impossible is now becoming reality. Every patient had been paralyzed between 3 and 12 years before taking part in the study and every patient had a breakthrough, upgrading from complete to partial paralysis.
By jumping into a virtual reality where they could walk, controlling the avatar with their brain waves and suspending their bodies in harnesses, each member of the study painstakingly retrained their spinal cord. Study co-author Miguel Nicolelis, believes this “reinserted the representation of lower limbs into the patients’ brains” which allowed them to repair themselves.
Once each participant mastered the basics of moving their avatar with their mind, they got inside of a suspended exoskeleton where they were able to balance and work the muscles and nerves.
Success varied from patient to patient but each member “regained voluntary motor control in key muscles… resulting in marked improvement in their walking index,” says the study.
Nicolelis believes that the training program enabled patients to reconnect their brains to the spinal nerves that survived the accidents that left them paralyzed. “One previous study has shown that a large percentage of patients who are diagnosed as having complete paraplegia may still have some spinal nerves left intact,” he explained in a statement.
“These nerves may go quiet for many years because there is no signal from the cortex to the muscles. Over time, training with the brain-machine interface could have rekindled these nerves. It may be a small number of fibers that remain, but this may be enough to convey signals from the motor cortical area of the brain to the spinal cord.”
Returning sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and walking to the paralyzed. We have performed miracles.