An implant, dubbed Brain Wifi, could be the key to helping paralysed people walk again.
Brain Wifi is an implant in the brain that beams signals and instructions out of the brain in an attempt to restore movement in the body.
The implant has already been successfully used in primates for the first time. Scientists worked with Rhesus monkeys. They were paralysed in one leg due to a damaged spinal cord. The team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology bypassed the injury by sending the instructions straight from the brain to the nerves controlling leg movement. Experts said the technology could be ready for human trials within a decade. Meaning many of those suffering from paralysis would have the opportunity to have it reversed.
Spinal chord injuries stop signals from the brain reaching other parts of the body, resulting in paralysis. These injuries are rarely reversible. however, recent developments in technology mean there is hope for the future.
In the study, a chip was implanted into the part of the monkeys’ brain that controls movement. Its job was to read the spikes of electrical activity that are the instructions for moving the legs and send them to a nearby computer. It then deciphered the messages and sent instructions from the Brain Wifi to stimulate the limbs in the appropriate way. All of this was calculated in real time. The published results show the monkeys gaining control of their limbs around six days after the brain wifi was inserted.
While this may be promising, Rhesus monkeys walk on four legs and humans on two. Creating Brain Wifi to reverse leg paralysis on us would be a lot more difficult. However, not impossible.
Dr Gregoire Courting is one of the researchers. When speaking to the BBC he said:
“This is the first time that a neurotechnology has restored locomotion in primates.”
“The movement was close to normal for the basic walking pattern, but so far we have not been able to test the ability to steer.”
“But the way we walk is different to primates, we are bipedal and this requires more sophisticated ways to stimulate the muscle,”
The technology used to stimulate the spinal cord is the same as that used in deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s disease. It would not be a technological leap to doing the same tests in patients. Scientists and experts agree that there is some work ahead. But, for the first time they can see real results in the near future thanks to Brain Wifi.
Another method that has been in development involves transplanting cells from the nasal cavity into the spinal cord to try to biologically repair the injury. A man involved in a knife attack, who was paralysed from the waist down can now walk with a frame following this treatment.
However, we want to know your thoughts on the implementation of Brain Wifi? Do you think it could be potentially life changing? Let us know!