David M’zee can walk again thanks to a new spinal cord implant technology, according to findings published in the science journal “Nature.”
M’zee lost the use of his legs due to a sporting accident but thanks to researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, he can reportedly walk more than a half mile, hands free, with the implants turned on.
Two other patients were given similar implants and, combined with physical therapy, achieved similar results. But an important factor in this experiment is the implants aren’t working the patients’ legs for them.
“It really works as an amplifier,” lead neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine told Nature. “It’s not that we’re taking over control of the leg. The patients have to do it.”
The implants use targeted electrical stimulation to specific parts of the leg, recreating the way the brain interacts with the body.
“In our method, we implant an array of electrodes over the spinal cord which allows us to target individual muscle groups in the legs,” said Lausanne University Hospital neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch. “Selected configurations of electrodes are activating specific regions of the spinal cord, mimicking the signals that the brain would deliver to produce walking.”
The promising treatment shows that the brain and spinal cord can re-establish a connection and people can regain some control over parts of the body they had lost use of.
For now, experts say, it far too expensive and impractical outside of the laboratory setting, but it’s an impressive start.
Check out the video above and see M’zee in action.