A paralyzed man walks again thanks to brain and spinal cord implants

The experiment could prove to be a major breakthrough for patients with spinal injuries

40-year-old Gert-Jan Oskam from the Netherlands was paralyzed in 2011 when he suffered a biking accident which resulted in serious damage to his spinal cord. Now, thanks to the latest experimental technology, Oskam is able to walk again — he can even climb stairs.

“We’ve captured the thoughts of Gert-Jan, and translated these thoughts into a stimulation of the spinal cord to re-establish voluntary movement,” explained Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology who worked on the project.

“A few months ago, I was able, for the first time after 10 years, to stand up and have a beer with my friends,” Oskam told the Guardian. “That was pretty cool. I want to use it in my daily life.”

According to a study published in the journal Nature, the BSI brain-spine interface has allowed him to not only walk, but also climb stairs.

The new technology employed in the study required the team to restore communication between Oskam’s brain and his spinal cord with a digital bridge.

“To establish this digital bridge, we integrated two fully implanted systems that enable recording of cortical activity and stimulation of the lumbosacral spinal cord wirelessly and in real time,” said Courtine.

According to the study’s authors, the next stage of development will be to “miniaturize the hardware needed to run the interface.” For now, Oskam carries the hardware in a backpack.