Researchers At UC Irvine Use Brain Control Device To Help Paralyzed Man Walk Again
Adam Fritz was never supposed to walk again, but thanks to doctors at University of California, Irvine, Fritz has a chance at a new life.
In 2008, Fritz was riding his motorcycle near Diamond Bar, California, when a table slipped off the truck in front of him and struck him. He flew from his bike onto the freeway.
“It’s what I called my ‘oh shit’ moment,” he told TIME. “I tried to sit up and get up on my feet. I remember the firefighters telling me not to move. Everything just hurt.”
Two days later, doctors told him he had an irreparable spinal injury and would never walk again. But thanks to a medical and technological breakthrough, Fritz may not spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
From a proof-of-concept study at UC Irvine that appeared in the Journal of NeuroEngineering & Rehabilitation:
“Novel brain-computer interface technology created by University of California, Irvine researchers has allowed a paraplegic man to walk for a short distance.
“In the preliminary proof-of-concept study, led by UCI biomedical engineer Zoran Nenadic and neurologist An Do, a person with complete paralysis in both legs due to spinal cord injury was able – for the first time – to take steps without relying on manually controlled robotic limbs.
“The male participant, whose legs had been paralyzed for five years, walked along a 12-foot course using an electroencephalogram-based system that lets the brain bypass the spinal cord to send messages to the legs. It takes electrical signals from the subject’s brain, processes them through a computer algorithm, and fires them off to electrodes placed around the knees that trigger movement in the leg muscles.”
Normally when we take a step, the brain sends signals down through our spinal cord to the muscles in our legs which triggers movement. When the spinal cord is damaged, those signals fail to go through. The researchers at UC Irvine, using something similar to Bluetooth techonolgy with advanced computer algorithms, are bypassing the spinal cord. Those signals go straight from the brain to the electrodes attached to the legs and the electrodes stimulate the muscles.
While the research team isn’t saying they’ve found a cure for paralysis yet, these initial findings are giving hope to many in the medical community.
Hey, fixing a problem doesn’t just happen overnight. We have to take steps to get there and Fritz’s small strides just show that we’re going in the right direction.