Scientists Invent Exoskeleton to Help Paraplegics Walk
Scientists under the auspices of “Walk Again Project”, based in Sao Paulo, Brazil have invented an exoskeleton that can help patients paralysed by severe spinal cord injuries recover the ability to move their legs after training, and possibly walk, the Independent is reporting.
The “Walk Again” Project involves the use of an exoskeleton linked to patients’ brain alongside a training regime to help patients regain their natural neurological capacity.
The doctors were surprised to discover that during the training, the eight patients used for the test all started to regain the sense of touch and movement below the injury to their spine. In fact, one of the patients was able to make movements with the aid of crutches.
The training involved the patients using virtual reality to control a computer avatar with a “brain-machine interface”.
So when the patients thought about walking forward, the avatar would move as if it was their body. They then used the same system to control a robot and finally an exoskeleton that the patients could wear.
Furthermore, the researchers explained that contrary to the notion that nerves of patients who suffer paralysis are entirely dead, a few nerves possibly survived. And these were reactivated by the training, which may have rewired circuits in the brain.
Dr Miguel Nicolelis, director of the Duke University Centre for Neuro-engineering in the US, said previously seven patients were classified as having total paralysis, but had now been upgraded to “partial paralysis”. And he added: “The recovery has not stopped yet.”
He said the researchers had “never even imagined” this kind of effect would be possible and said they were now “very excited at seeing what they believe is a key milestone in helping paraplegics.”
Recall that a young man paralyzed from the chest down had symbolically kicked off the tournament using a brain-machine interface and exoskeleton at the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
This breakthrough possibly is the needed limp that will herald a new chapter in the treatment of paraplegics and offer hope to many.
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