The French neuroscientist Courtine was watching a macaque monkey as it curved aggressively at one end of a treadmill. His team had used a Medical blade to slice halfway through the monkey’s spinal cord, paralyzing its right leg. Now Courtine wanted to prove that he could get the monkey walking again. To do this, he and his colleagues had installed a recording device underneath his skull, touching its motor cortex, and sewed a pad of flexible electrodes around the monkey’s spinal cord, below the injury. A wireless connection joined the two electronic devices.
The medical result of the process
The result: a system that read the monkey’s intention to move and then transmitted it immediately into a form of bursts of electrical stimulation to its spine. Soon enough, the monkey’s right leg began to move. Extend and flex. It hobbled forward. “The monkey was thinking, and then boom, it was walking,” recalls an exultant Courtine, a professor with Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
Swiss based medical research company École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne says “The brain-spine interface bridges the spinal cord injury in real-time and wirelessly.”
The neuroprosthetic system decodes spiking activity from the brain’s motor cortex and then relays this information to a system of electrodes located over the surface of the lumbar spinal cord, below the injury.
Electrical stimulation of a few volts, delivered at precise locations in the spinal cord, modulates distinct networks of neurons that can activate specific muscles in the legs, according to the research company.
“The monkey was thinking, and then boom, it was walking.” After testing on the monkey was successful, the researchers wanted to test the process on a human subject. A quadriplegic patient (a person who is unable to move anything below the shoulders) volunteered for the experiment. The doctors put two recording implants into the man’s brain, as well as several electrodes into his arm and hand. He was able to slowly raise and lower his arm, while clenching and releasing his hand. The progress that scientists have made on reversing paralysis is remarkable. The technology is promising, and this advancement will have a life-changing impact for those suffering from paralysis!