Revolutionary Brain and Spinal Cord Implant Enables Quadriplegic Patient to Move Limbs through Thought

2023-09-28 09:52:33

For the first time, a brain implant coupled with an implant stimulating the spinal cord is being tested to allow a Swiss quadriplegic patient to move his arms, hands and fingers again through thought.

This is the first time that this double technique has been used for upper limbs, the Dutch company Onward announced on Wednesday.

The combination of these two technologies had already enabled a paraplegic patient to regain natural control of walking through thought, an advance which was the subject of a publication in the scientific journal Nature in May.

>> Read: A team from CHUV and EPFL makes a paraplegic walk again using “thought”

But “the mobility of the arm is more complex”, notes surgeon Jocelyne Bloch, who carried out the implantation operations. Even if compared to walking, the problem of balance does not arise here, “the musculature of the hand is quite fine, with lots of different small muscles which are activated at the same time for certain movements”, adds -She.

Two operations in Lausanne

The patient, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a 46-year-old Swiss man who lost the use of his arms after a fall. Two operations took place last month at the CHUV in Lausanne.

The first to place the brain implant a few centimeters in diameter above the brain, in place of a small piece of cranial bone. The second to place the electrodes developed by Onward at the level of the cervical cord, connected to a small box implanted in the abdomen.

The brain implant – or brain-machine interface, BMI – records the regions of the brain that activate when the patient thinks about a movement, and communicates them to the electrodes. A sort of “digital bridge”.

“It’s going well for the moment,” described Professor Jocelyne Bloch, from the neurosurgery department at CHUV. “We are able to record brain activity, and we know that the stimulation works. (…) But it is too early to talk about what progress he has made, what he is capable of doing now” , adds the one who co-founded Onward and remains a consultant for the company.

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Results expected later

The patient is in the training phase, to ensure that the brain implant recognizes the different desired movements. The lost movements will then have to be repeated many times before they can become natural. The process will take “a few months”, according to Jocelyne Bloch. Two more patients are scheduled to participate in this trial. Full results will be published later.

Spinal cord stimulation has already been used in the past to successfully move the arm of paralyzed patients, but without coupling with a brain implant. And brain implants have already been used so that a patient can control an exoskeleton.

The Battelle organization used a brain implant to restore movement in a patient’s arm – but equipped with a sleeve of electrodes placed on the forearm, directly stimulating the muscles concerned.

“Onward is unique in its desire to restore movement through spinal cord stimulation,” coupled with a brain implant, its boss, Dave Marver, told AFP. According to him, this technology could be commercialized “by the end of the decade”.


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