12 years ago, Gert-Jan Oskam became a quadriplegic after being in a bicycle accident that damaged his spinal cord in the neck. However, thanks to some cutting-edge brain technology, this man has managed to stand up and walk again. A group of Swiss and French scientists has led an unprecedented breakthrough in neuronal surgery, recently published in the scientific journal Nature. This innovative procedure is considered the first man-machine connection trained with artificial intelligence.
The pioneer patient receiving this treatment is Gert-Jan Oskam, a 40-year-old Dutch man who walked in front of reporters at the Vaud University Hospital Center in Lausanne, Switzerland. Oskam was invited by Swiss scientific institutions in 2016 to participate in this experimental program, which, although previously tested in apes, had not been tested in humans. The device used, known as a brain-spine interface, builds on previous research led by neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine and his team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.
In 2018, the team concluded that by combining this technology with intensive training, it was possible to help people with spinal cord injuries regain the ability to walk. The system used in the case of Gert-Jan Oskam consists of two implants: one in the spinal cord and one in the skull, which establish a connection between the brain and a computer using 64 electrodes. This interface records brain activity in the cortex and translates it into digital data via artificial intelligence.
After months of training in which Oskam was asked to imagine moving his legs, his brain augmented the stimuli that were converted into movement via the implant in his spinal cord. This new device even allows the patient to have full control over the stimulation, which means they can stop, walk, and climb stairs.
After approximately 40 rehabilitation sessions using the brain-spine interface, Oskam has regained the ability to voluntarily move his legs and feet. This breakthrough suggests greater recovery in nerve cells that were not completely damaged during the injury.
Although the device is still bulky and requires headphones and a wearable device, the team of scientists considers this achievement a breakthrough in neuroscience. His goal now is to spread this technology to more patients and work on its industrialization. In addition, Courtine’s team is recruiting people to investigate whether a similar device can restore arm movements.
This breakthrough represents hope for people with spinal cord injuries, as it shows the potential of technology and artificial intelligence to restore mobility and improve the quality of life for those suffering from paralysis.
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