Brain-machine interface technologies that convert thoughts into electrical signals that power devices outside the body can partially reverse paralysis in chronic paraplegics, according to new research. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: Unexpected and potentially groundbreaking results released today by the Walk Again Project - an international consortium of researchers focused on using brain-machine interface technologies to give paraplegics increased mobility. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. MIGUEL NICOLELIS, PROFESSOR OF NEUROSCIENCE AND BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING, DUKE UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "To our big surprise what we noticed is that the long term training with brain-machine interfaces in different set ups, in a virtual reality set up, in a standalone robot like we are seeing here or in a exo-skeleton controlled by brain activity trigger a partial neurological recovery." Patients in the trial that previously couldn't feel or move their legs due to spinal cord injuries started showing stunning results. The study was initially designed to follow how 8 patients with severe paralysis due to spinal cord injuries adapted to the use of exoskeletons and robotic arms that are powered by interpreting and converting brain signals into electrical commands. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. MIGUEL NICOLELIS, PROFESSOR OF NEUROSCIENCE AND BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING, DUKE UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "What we didn't expect and what we observed is that some of these patients regained voluntary control of muscles in the legs below the level of the lesion, regained sensitivity below the level of the spinal cord injury." While further studies are needed to confirm results, the researchers believe that the use of brain-machine interface technologies may rewire the circuitry in the brain, giving it new ways to communicate with parts of the injured body - a big step towards improving the lives of millions of people that suffer from paralysis.