Scientists in Switzerland have made a major breakthrough in fighting spinal cord injuries, using a wireless implant to allow paralyzed monkeys to walk again.
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology outfitted rhesus monkeys with an implant in their brains and a device to generate pulses that move the primates’ legs.
While a signal from the brain may normally be stopped by an injury in the spinal cord, the brain implant allows the decisions to bypass problems by sending information through a computer that decodes it and turns it into motion.
Similar technology has previously been used to allow injured humans to control robotic arms, but the Swiss study uses the electrical impulses to move the paralyzed body parts themselves.
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The monkeys involved soon began to recover their ability to walk, with progress within the first week, according to the results published in Nature.
Under their own control, the animals reached almost normal levels of walking.
“For the first time I can imagine a patient, completely plegic, being able to obey to his brain commands,” said Dr. Jocelyne Bloch, a surgeon.
The rhesus monkey system allows for extension and bending of a leg, but did not attempt to replicate more complicated maneuvers.
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Leading researcher Grégoire Courtine said that there are “many challenges ahead” before similar devices can be used in humans, but suggested that it could begin as a therapy within several years.
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