Turning Dreams Into Reality: Man Walks After 12 Years of Paralysis

In a remarkable breakthrough, a 40-year-old man named Gert-Jan Oskam, who had been paralyzed from the waist down for 12 years due to a cycling accident, has regained the ability to walk. This astonishing achievement was made possible by a cutting-edge brain-spine interface (BSI) implanted in his brain and spinal cord. A recent study published in the journal Nature has shed light on this groundbreaking technology, offering new hope to individuals with spinal cord injuries.

After his accident in China, Oskam hoped to find a solution upon returning to the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the technology at that time was not advanced enough to fulfill his aspirations. However, he later participated in a trial led by neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who had been exploring ways to stimulate the lower spine to restore movement. While Oskam initially made progress, his improvements eventually reached a plateau after three years.

In the latest study, researchers successfully restored communication between Oskam’s brain and spinal cord through a digital bridge, allowing him to regain voluntary movement. The breakthrough involved capturing Oskam’s thoughts and translating them into stimulation of his spinal cord, ultimately enabling him to stand, walk, climb stairs, and navigate complex terrains. Astonishingly, Oskam even regained some control over his legs when the BSI was turned off, highlighting the adaptability and resilience of the human nervous system.

Oskam participated in 40 sessions of neurorehabilitation throughout the study, which further facilitated his progress. Today, he can walk distances of at least 100 meters (328 feet) or more, depending on the day. These groundbreaking results have fueled the hopes of researchers and individuals with spinal cord injuries worldwide.

The next step in advancing this technology lies in miniaturizing the hardware required to operate the brain-spine interface. Currently, Oskam carries the necessary equipment in a backpack, which limits mobility to some extent. Researchers are diligently working to refine the technology and explore its potential applications in restoring arm movement as well.

Recent decades have witnessed significant advancements in the treatment of spinal cord injuries. In a study published in Nature in February, researchers demonstrated how targeted electrical pulses delivered to the spinal cord can enhance arm and hand movement in stroke patients. The team that assisted Oskam believes that the brain-spine interface technology can be further developed to restore movement in the upper limbs and potentially benefit stroke patients as well.

CBS News


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