Restoring locomotion in primates with spinal cord injuries

Pioneering research being conducted by Dr. Gregoire Courtine (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology - Lausanne) may enable paralyzed humans to walk again someday. Through his collaborative research with a lab in Beijing China, he has developed a wireless brain implant that detects signals in the brain and then sends these signals to electrodes implanted in the lower spine (below the injured region) of the animals. This technology allows the brain signals to bypass the spinal cord injury.

Dr. Courtine is beginning trials in paralyzed humans using a simpler model of his new system that only includes electrodes in the lower spine. Many challenges lie ahead for the research, but it is a great advance in technology and medicine. One of the challenges will be to determine the 'appropriate' brain signals to send to the electrodes that encode locomotion. With the primates, this was easier as they were able to record brain electrical activity that stimulated locomotion prior to the injury and in essence, play that same signal back to restore motion.

Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2016.20967


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