Paralyzed Monkeys Learn to Walk Again With Brain Implant

monkey paralyzed brain chip implant
The neuroprosthetic interface, developed by researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, acts as a wireless bridge between the brain and spine, bypassing the injury. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

A new brain implant device could be used to help paralyzed people walk again after it allowed non-human primates to regain control of their paralyzed legs.

The wireless implant, developed in an international collaboration led by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), allows broken nerves in the spinal cord to be bypassed in order to reanimate lifeless limbs.

“For the first time, I can imagine a patient completely plegic being able to obey his brain commands through this brain spinal interface,” said Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon at Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland.

The implant works by decoding brain activity associated with walking movements and relaying the information to the spinal cord—below the injury—through electrodes that stimulate the neural pathways that activate leg muscles. This allowed the monkeys in the trial to move their legs in the ways they intended.

The wireless system also meant the primate was able to behave freely, without the constraint of tethered electronics.

“This is the first time that a neurotechnology restores locomotion in primates,” said EPFL neuroscientist Gregoire Courtine, who led the collaboration. “But there are many challenges ahead and it may take several years before all the components of this intervention can be tested in people.”

The paper, published this week in the journal Nature, is now being followed up with a feasibility clinical study at Lausanne University Hospital, in order to test the therapeutic effects of the spine-part of the interface in people with spinal cord injuries.