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  • Writer's pictureBraxton Hoare

A New Lease on Mobility

Recently a team of Swiss neuroscientists has introduced a device called the “digital bridge.” This implant allows people with spinal cord injuries to overcome their limitations and regain the ability to walk. By re-establishing communication between the brain and the spinal cord’s leg movement region, this innovative technology is a game changer in the field of paralysis rehabilitation.

Normally, when someone tries to take a step, their brain sends a command to the spinal cord’s movement control area. However, in the case of spinal cord injuries, this communication is disrupted, resulting in a roadblock for the signal. Previous attempts to restore mobility involved using constant electrical stimulation of the spinal cord. Unfortunately, these methods often led to unnatural and highly limited walking patterns.

The digital bridge, developed by neuroscientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, presents an exciting breakthrough. This invasive implant involves placing electrodes in the skull and spinal cord, establishing a direct line of communication between the brain and the region responsible for leg movement. Unfortunately, this system is not suitable for all forms of spinal cord paralysis. However, it has proven effective for individuals with limited lower mobility who find aids like wheelchairs inconvenient or restrictive.

The digital bridge system comprises two electronic implants in the brain that detect neural activity when the person intends to move their legs. These signals are then sent to a processing unit, which is worn as a backpack. Using a specially-developed algorithm, these signals are decoded and transmitted as instructions to another electronic implant placed in the spinal cord’s leg movement region. This spinal implant acts as a neurostimulator, activating the leg muscles and enabling movement.

Gert-Jan Oskam, the only person to undergo this experimental procedure thus far, had the procedure done following a paralyzing cycling accident over a decade ago. He has since experienced life-altering improvements through years of trials and continuous advancements. Today, Oskam can stand, walk, and climb stairs naturally, simply by thinking about it almost as if he was never paralyzed.

It is worth noting that Oskam still relies on crutches and walkers for mobility for now, but the progress he has made is nothing less than impressive. This digital bridge device has transformed his life, providing newfound independence and the ability to engage in activities that were long unimaginable. As research and technology continue to advance, there is hope that this breakthrough will pave the way for further improvements, enhancing the quality of life for countless paralyzed individuals worldwide.

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