AI helps paralyzed man walk after 12 years, signifying an incredible breakthrough for people suffering from spinal injuries. Gert-Jan Oskam was paralyzed in a bike accident, but with the help of the new AI device, he can now walk independently.
The brain-computer interface creates a digital bridge between the brain and the spinal column, bypassing the damaged areas. The incredible results are a fusion of two experimental technologies and over ten years of studies and research.
How Does The AI Device Work?
In the study published in Nature, researchers from France and Germany use electric devices in the brain and spinal cord, which communicate wirelessly.
The first device sits in the skull, making contact with the brain. It reads brain signals and forwards the message to a small external computer.
The computer uses an AI thought decoder and algorithms to decipher the signals associated with walking and relays the information wirelessly to the second device in the spinal cord.
The electrodes in the second device stimulate the spinal cord and activate the legs to walk in a precise sequence, in real-time, according to the patient’s thoughts.
Hope For Spinal Injury Patients
According to ABC News, the patient in the study, Gert-Jan Oskam, is a 40-year-old from the Netherlands. He was injured in a cycling accident in 2011 and sustained damage to the spinal column in the neck. The incident left him with partially paralyzed arms and paralyzed legs.
He was part of a 2017 clinical trial and already had a device in his spine, but after three years of improvements, his progress plateaued.
The recent study paired the device in his spine with two new disk implants in his skull. The discs secure two 64-electrode grids to the brain membrane.
He also wears a backpack containing a computer to decode the signals and wirelessly transmit them to the device in the spine.
In the previous study, spinal devices were pre-coded simulations which caused robotic movements, and patients didn’t have as much control. The additional AI-supported device reads his thoughts so he can walk, stop, and climb stairs as he desires.
According to a Nature article, Oskam described the experience as life-changing. he said, “The stimulation before was controlling me, and now I am controlling the stimulation by my thoughts. When I decide to make a step, the simulation will kick in as soon as I think about it.”
What Does The Future Have In Store For Brain-Computer Interfaces?
Oskam needed 40 rehabilitation sessions to train the device, and evidence suggests that it has also helped the recovery of nerves that weren’t completely severed in the accident. The BBC reports that he can now walk short distances on crutches without the device.
Researchers say the study is a massive step forward for people with spinal injuries, and potentially, they can combine the device with stem cell treatment in the future. Scientists are also seeking less invasive ways to use the device.
Oskam had one of the disks removed from his skull after contracting an infection after five months. The device also increases hemorrhage risk. But researchers emphasize that the risks are small and dwarfed by the benefits.
Groundbreaking AI brain-computer interface technology was also in the news earlier this week when Elon Musk’s Neuralink got FDA approval for its first human trials.