Paralysed man walks again thanks to electrodes in his spine

Scientists have managed to make a paralysed man walk again. Source: rezendeluan (via Pixabay)

By Aditi Girish Kallanagoudar | Contributor

In 2017, a man named Michel Roccati lost all feeling and movement in his legs after a motorcycle crash that severed his spinal cord. However, scientists have managed to reactivate his muscles by implanting electrodes in his spine and he can now stand and walk with electrical stimulation that is controlled wirelessly from a tablet.

Roccati, along with two other men, all within the age range of 29 to 41 have been assisted by this implant and have managed several physical tasks like standing, walking, riding a bike and even kicking their legs in a swimming pool. This small, implantable device could do wonders for paralyzed people and grant them an extent of freedom previously thought impossible.

“Now it’s a part of my daily life,” says Rocatti, who uses the device to strengthen his muscles in his routine training and to assist his rehabilitation by keeping him fit. 

The device was developed by a neuroscientist Prof Grégoire Courtine from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, and a neurosurgeon from the Lausanne university hospital, Prof Jocelyne Bloch. It uses a soft, flexible electrode which is laid on top of the spinal cord nerves and underneath the vertebrae. 

It is operated with the aid of software on a tablet that issues instructions for a certain action, such as standing, walking, cycling, or kicking the legs for swimming. Once these instructions are issued by the tablet, the device delivers electrical pulses to the spinal cord nerves that control different muscles in the torso and legs, thus enabling the paralyzed individual to carry out the action commanded. 

The patients responded to the device almost immediately and were able to stand up within hours of the implantation. After following a training programme that has let them rebuild lost muscle and move around more independently for about four months, their performance improved drastically, even allowing them to stand and drink in a bar. 

“It was not perfect at the beginning, but they could train very early to have a more fluid gait,” said Bloch, who also expects to see similar results in women. 

“By controlling these implants, we can activate the spinal cord like the brain would do naturally to have the patient stand, walk, swim or ride a bike.” says Courtine.

To perform any particular movement, all a person has to do is select the appropriate option from their tablet which then contacts a pacemaker-esque device in their abdomen, which then sends signals to the implanted electrode. The electrode stimulates the coordination of the appropriate sets of muscles, helping the patient to push up into a standing position or swing their legs to walk.

Science and Technology

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