There’s new hope for people left paralysed by severe spinal cord injuries. Experts have found that paraplegic patients are able to recover their ability to move their legs after training with an exoskeleton linked to their brain.
The Walk Again Project, which is based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was developed with the aim of enabling paraplegics to move about using an exoskeleton manoeuvred by their thoughts. However, researchers are now of the opinion that a few nerves survived and were consequently reactivated by the training. This may have led to some rewiring of the circuits in the brain, reports the Independent.
The patients were earlier trained to use virtual reality to control a computer avatar with a “brain-machine interface”. This meant that whenever they thought about walking forward, the avatar would also move as if it was their body. Later an exoskeleton based on the same system that could be worn by patients was created.
“Currently, once people with spinal injuries receive a diagnosis of complete paralysis, rehabilitation consists mainly of adapting them to a wheelchair,” explained Dr Miguel Nicolelis, director of the Duke University Centre for Neuroengineering in the US.
Post the successful experiment, the seven patients, who were previously classified as having total paralysis, have now been upgraded to “partial paralysis”. The path-breaking treatment has been published recently in the journal Scientific Reports....