Excitement, with a note of caution, has greeted the news that a paralysed man has been able to walk again thanks to a brain implant that uses his thoughts to move his limbs.
Gert-Jan Oskam was told he would not be able to walk again after breaking his neck in a cycling accident, but Swiss researchers, led by Lausanne University Hospital, the University of Lausanne, and École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne (EPFL), all Switzerland, have now successfully reconnected Oskam’s brain and muscles using the brain implant device.
The development of the device has been built on years of research into treating paralysis and spinal cord injury, including in animals.
The implants were initially tested in rats, and then in studies in mice, rats and monkeys, to ensure the technology worked before it could progress to human trials – read this EPFL article on the necessity of animals to this research.
Prof Grégoire Courtine, of EPFL, told the BBC: “It is a paradigm shift in what was available before.”
Dr Antonio Oliviero, at the National Hospital for Paraplegics, Spain, told El País: “It’s an important step, but at the moment, [Oskam] is the only patient. We don’t know to what extent [these results] can be normalised.”
Dr Nandan Lad at Duke University, North Carolina, USA, told Science: “It’s still very much the early days, but as a proof of concept in a human being, I think it’s a huge step forward.”