An international team of scientists has successfully enabled Gert-Jan Oskam, a 40-year-old Dutch man who was paralyzed after suffering a spinal cord injury in a bicycle accident in 2011, to walk again thanks to a wireless digital bridge. This bridge restores communication between the brain and spinal cord, allowing Oskam to regain control over the movement of his paralyzed legs.

The system uses two types of electronic implants. First, devices are implanted in the region of the brain that controls leg movements. These devices decode the electrical signals generated by the brain when thinking about walking. In addition, a neurostimulator connected to an electrode array is placed in the region of the spinal cord that controls leg movement.

Using algorithms based on adaptive artificial intelligence, movement intentions are decoded in real time from brain signals and converted into electrical stimulation sequences in the spinal cord. These stimulations activate the leg muscles, enabling the desired movement. The digital bridge operates wirelessly, providing autonomy to the patient.

Rehabilitation using this procedure has enabled Gert-Jan to regain the neurological functions he lost after the accident. The researchers have observed remarkable improvements in his sensory perceptions and motor skills, even when the digital bridge is turned off. This suggests that new nerve connections have developed as a result of digital spinal cord repair.

Although the digital bridge has only been tested in one person so far, the researchers believe that this strategy could be used to restore arm and hand function in the future. Its application in other clinical conditions, such as paralysis due to stroke, is also being considered. The company responsible for the digital bridge, Onward Medical, together with the Swiss universities involved in the study, has received support from the European Commission to develop a commercial version of this technology and make it available worldwide.

Article written by Pallab Ghosh