Man Walks Again After Years Of Paralysis

Man Walks Again After Years Of Paralysis
A man who suffered an accident five years ago is able to walk
again after scientists reconnected his brain and legs.
(Credit: University of California at Irvine)
The ability to walk has been restored following a spinal cord injury, using one's own brain power, according to research published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation. The preliminary proof-of-concept study shows that it is possible to use direct brain control to get a person's legs to walk again.

This is the first time that a person with complete paralysis in both legs (paraplegia) due to spinal cord injury was able to walk without relying on manually controlled robotic limbs, as with previous walking aid devices.

The participant, who had been paralyzed for five years, walked along a 3.66m long course using an electroencephalogram (EEG) based system. The system takes electrical signals from the participant's brain, which then travel down to electrodes placed around his knees to create movement.

"Even after years of paralysis the brain can still generate robust brain waves that can be harnessed to enable basic walking. We showed that you can restore intuitive, brain-controlled walking after a complete spinal cord injury. This noninvasive system for leg muscle stimulation is a promising method and is an advance of our current brain-controlled systems that use virtual reality or a robotic exoskeleton," the researchers said.

Mental training was initially needed to reactivate the brain's walking ability. Seated and wearing an EEG cap to read his brainwaves, the participant trained to control an avatar in a virtual reality environment. He also required physical training to recondition and strengthen his leg muscles.

The participant later practiced walking while suspended 5cm above ground, so he could freely move his legs without having to support himself. On his 20th visit, he translated these skills to walk on the ground and wore a body-weight support system for aid and to prevent falls. Over the 19 week testing period, he gained more control and performed more tests per visit.

This proof-of-concept study involved a single patient so further studies are needed to establish whether these results are true for a larger population of individuals with paraplegia.


Overground walking test. The participant follows verbal cues from the experimenter, and utilizes attempted walking to perform BCI-FES mediated walking towards the next cone in the course. He then uses idling to stand and dwell until instructed to start walking towards the next cone.


Based on material originally posted by BioMed Central.