LONDON (Reuters) – A man paralyzed from the shoulders down has been able to walk using a pioneering four-limb robotic system, or exoskeleton, which is controlled and controlled by brain signals.
With a ceiling-mounted balancing device, the 28-year-old quadriplegic patient used a sensor system implanted near his brain to send messages to move all four paralyzed limbs after a two-year exoskeleton body trial.
The findings, published in The Lancet Neurology on Thursday, bring doctors closer to helping paralyzed patients drive computers using only brain signals, according to researchers who led the work.
But for now, the exoskeleton is purely an experimental prototype and is "far from clinical application," they added.
"(This) is the first invasive wireless brain computer system designed to activate all four limbs," said Alim-Louis Benabid, a neurosurgeon and professor at the University of Grenoble, France, who co-led the trial.
He said earlier brain computer technologies used invasive sensors implanted in the brain where they can be most dangerous and often stop working. Earlier versions were also wired, he said, or were limited to creating movement in just one limb.
In this trial, two recording devices were implanted, one on each side of the patient's head between the brain and the skin, encompassing the sensory-motor cortex region of the brain that controls sensation and motor function.
Each recorder contained 64 electrodes that collected brain signals and transmitted them to a decoding algorithm. The system translated the brain signals into the movements in which the patient thought and sent his commands to the exoskeleton.
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For 24 months, the patient performed various mental tasks to train the algorithm to understand his thoughts and progressively increase the number of movements he could make.
Commenting on the results, Tom Shakespeare, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it was "a welcome and exciting breakthrough," but added: "The proof of concept is a long way from the clinically feasible possibility."
“There is always a danger of hype in this field. Although feasible, cost constraints mean that high-tech options will never be available to most people in the world with spinal cord injuries. "
Report by Kate Kelland; Edition by Gareth Jones
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