A French optician paralyzed from the neck down showed the world that modern science is full of miracles, as he was equipped with a robotic skeleton controlled by his mind that enabled him to walk.
The patient, referred to as Thibault, fell 50 feet from a nightclub roof in 2015, leaving him a quadriplegic. But although his muscles still suffer from paralysis, he practiced using video simulations, ultimately getting the exoskeleton to walk 475 feet total over 39 sessions as it was attached to a suspended harness on the ceiling.
Thibault’s experience was documented in the medical journal The Lancet Neurology.
The Daily Mail reported, “The exoskeleton, which is attached to the ceiling for support, is designed to collect these messages and move how the patient wishes to. Two sensors containing 64 electrodes each are placed underneath the skull, over areas of the brain that control movement in the limbs. These sensors collect brain signals from Thibault, software decodes what they mean and then the exoskeleton with 14 joints receives directions. The placing of the sensors depends on which parts of the spinal cord are damaged and what movements a patient isn’t able to do.”
Thibault said: “It’s not an exoskeleton for going to the bar with my friends but I’ve achieved something that’s a first. I didn’t move for two years and I had forgotten what it was like to stand. I forgot I was taller than a lot of people in the room and it was very impressive.” He added that walking felt like being the “first man on the Moon.”
Eureka Alert added, “Over the 24 months of the trial, the system did not need to be recalibrated for up to seven weeks, demonstrating that it may be suitable for day-to-day use over a long period. The quality of the recordings from the implants remained stable, the algorithm continued to decode the signals, and the patient experienced no post-surgical complications.”
Professor Tom Shakespeare, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, cautioned in the Lancet Neurology, “An originality of this study is showing the control of four limbs, whereas in most previous studies only one limb was controlled. However, autonomous walking with equilibrium is not so far possible. Although this study presents a welcome and exciting advance, we must remember that proof of concept is a long way from usable clinical possibility. A danger of hype always exists in this field. Even if ever workable, cost constraints mean that high-tech options are never going to be available to most people in the world with spinal cord injury. One analysis suggests that only 15% of the world’s disabled population have access to the wheelchairs or other assistive technologies that they need.”
The lead author of the study, Professor Alim-Louis Benabid, said, “Ours is the first semi-invasive wireless brain-computer system designed for long term use to activate all four limbs. Previous brain-computer studies have used more invasive recording devices implanted beneath the outermost membrane of the brain, where they eventually stop working. They have also been connected to wires, limited to creating movement in just one limb, or have focused on restoring movement to patients’ own muscles.”