Scientists from Ecole Polytechnique Federale Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, Brown University, Medtronic, and Fraunhofer ICT-IMM in Germany have joined forces and pulled off an amazing achievement of getting rhesus monkeys with spinal cord injury to walk again. There have been impressive achievements in the past of bypassing lesions in the spine that prevent signals from passing between the brain and leg muscles, but previous results have been quite limited.
The new research involved delivering epidural electrical stimulation based on signals gathered in the motor cortex. An intracortical microelectrode array was placed in the motor cortex of the brain responsible for leg motion. A spinal cord stimulator consisting of an epidural implant and a pulse generator were linked wirelessly to the brain implant via a special control system. The brain implant triggered the stimulator to activate specific muscles in such a way as to produce a fairly normal walking gait. Because the implants had a rather impressive spatial resolution, the resulting stimulation was accurate enough to activate individual muscles of the leg in the right order and just in time.
From the study abstract in Nature:
As early as six days post-injury and without prior training of the monkeys, the brain–spine interface restored weight-bearing locomotion of the paralysed leg on a treadmill and overground. The implantable components integrated in the brain–spine interface have all been approved for investigational applications in similar human research, suggesting a practical translational pathway for proof-of-concept studies in people with spinal cord injury.
Here’s a video explaining the research in greater detail:
Study in Nature: A brain–spine interface alleviating gait deficits after spinal cord injury in primates…
Via: Brown University…