In a world first, a paralysed man determined to walk again took a game-changing stroll, thanks to technology that translates his thoughts.
Global (25 May, 2023)—After a cycling accident and spinal cord injury left Gert-Jan Oskam with paralysed legs twelve years back, he refused to give up on the idea that he might walk again.
He showed incredible willpower.
“I am pretty stubborn by nature…if a doctor tells me I will never walk again, I will do everything to prove them wrong,” Oskam shared long before his biggest stride.
And, just under three years after that promise, his dream was realised in a way that people—a few years ago—would call science fiction.
But, sometimes truth is more exciting and hopeful than science fiction. And Oskam’s story is a testament.
Led by Swiss researchers and published in the journal Nature, the science behind Oskam’s development lies in black and white.
Thanks to science and tech working hand in hand, Oskam is able to think his way to walking as an advanced device bridges the gap between his nerves and neurons.
The device many are betting on as a mark of hope for the future is aptly called a brain-spine interface.
No overnight miracle, Oskam was initially part of a Swedish trial in 2018; an earlier leg of the same technology, neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine’s work. Oskam saw success but explained that he didn’t feel in control of the movement, and it fizzled out over time.
“The stimulation before was controlling me and now I am controlling stimulation by my thought,” Oskam added.
Now, the upgraded device works with the implants he already has and pairs it with two implants in his skull to make the mind-body connection and voluntary movement possible.
The other device “was more of a pre-programmed stimulation” that generated robotic stepping movements, explains Courtine.
“Now, it’s completely different, because Gert-Jan has full control over the parameter of stimulation, which means that he can stop, he can walk, he can climb up staircases.”
How the Device Works
“When Oskam thinks about walking, the skull implants detect electrical activity in the cortex, the outer layer of the brain. This signal is wirelessly transmitted and decoded by a computer that Oskam wears in a backpack, which then transmits the information to the spinal pulse generator,” share the researchers.
Though the development is still very new and still a long while away from being wildly accessible, it’s a great step toward what could be possible for paralysed people.