Garrett John Oscom was living in China in 2011 when he suffered a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the hips down. Now, with a combination of devices, scientists have given him back control over his lower body.
“For 12 years I have been trying to get my feet back. Now I have learned how to walk normally, naturally,” Mr Oscum said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
In a ___ the study Published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, Swiss researchers described the implants as providing a “digital bridge” between Mr Oskum’s brain and his spinal cord, bypassing the injured parts. The discovery allowed Mr Oskam, 40, to stand, walk and climb a steep ramp with only the help of a walker. More than a year after the implant, he has maintained these abilities and has actually shown signs of neurological recovery, walking with crutches even after the implant was removed.
“We have taken Gert-John’s ideas, and translated them into spinal cord stimulation to re-entrain voluntary movement,” said Grégoire Courtin, a spinal specialist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne. can be established.” In the press briefing said to lead the research.
Jocelyn Bloch, a neuroscientist at the University of Lausanne who implanted Mr Oscum, added, “At first it was quite science fiction for me, but today it became reality.”
There have been many advances in technological spinal cord injury treatment in recent decades. In 2016, a group of scientists led by Dr. Cortine managed to restore it. Ability to walk Among the paralyzed monkeys, and another helped a man. Take back control With his paralyzed hand. In 2018, a different group of scientists, also led by Dr. Cortine, devised a method. Stimulate the mind With an electrical pulse generator, allows partially paralyzed people to walk and cycle again. last year, More advanced The brain stimulation procedure allowed paraplegics to swim, walk and cycle within the same day of treatment.
Mr. Oskam underwent stimulation procedures over the years, and even regained some ability to walk, but eventually his improvement plateaued. At the press briefing, Mr. Oskam said that these stimulation technologies made him feel like there was something alien in the movement, an alien distance between his mind and body.
The new interface changed that, he said: “Before the stimulus was controlling me, and now I’m controlling the stimulus.”
In the new study, the brain-spinal interface, as the researchers called it, took advantage of one Decoder to artificial intelligence thinking to read Mr. Oscum’s intentions—detectable as electrical signals in his brain—and coordinate them with muscle movements. The etiology of natural movement, from thought to intention, was preserved. The only addition, as Dr. Courtine described it, was the digital bridge that spanned the injured parts of the spinal cord.
Andrew Jackson, a neuroscientist at the University of Newcastle who was not involved in the research, said: “It raises interesting questions about the source of autonomy and command. You blur the philosophical line between what is brain and what is technology. are doing
Dr. Jackson added that scientists in the field had been theorizing for decades how to connect the brain to spinal cord stimulation, but this was the first time they had shown such success in a human patient. Is. “It’s easy to say, it’s very hard to do,” he said.
To achieve this result, the researchers first implanted electrodes into Mr Oscum’s scalp and spinal cord. The team then used a machine learning program to observe which parts of the brain lit up when he tried to move different parts of his body. The thought decoder was able to match the activity of certain electrodes with specific intentions: one configuration would light up whenever Mr Oscum tried to move his ankles, another when he tried to move his hips. .
The researchers then used another algorithm to connect the brain implant to the spinal implant, which was set to send electrical signals to different parts of his body, triggering movement. The algorithm was able to account for slight variations in the direction and speed of contraction and relaxation of each muscle. And, because signals were sent between the brain and spinal cord every 300 milliseconds, Mr. Oscum could quickly adjust his strategy based on what was working and what wasn’t. In the first treatment session he could flex his hip muscles.
Over the next few months, the researchers fine-tuned the brain-spinal interface to better fit basic tasks like walking and standing. Mr Oscum regained a somewhat healthy-looking gait and was able to navigate steps and ramps with relative ease, even after months of treatment. What’s more, after a year of treatment, he began to see a marked improvement in his movement without the aid of a brain-spinal interface. The researchers documented these improvements in weight-bearing, balance, and walking tests.
Now, Mr Oscum can walk around his house in a limited way, get in and out of the car and stop at a bar for a drink. For the first time, she said, she felt like she was in control.
The researchers acknowledged limitations in their work. Discerning subtle intentions in the brain is difficult, and although the current brain-spinal interface is suitable for walking, the same may not be said for restoring upper body movement. Treatment is also invasive, requiring multiple surgeries and hours of physical therapy. Current systems do not cure all spinal cord paralysis.
But the team hoped that further advances would make the treatment more accessible and systematically effective. “That’s our real goal,” said Dr. Cortine, “to make this technology available to all patients around the world who need it.”