December 6, 2023
AI, implant create 'digital bridge' to help paralyzed person move arms and legs cnn


A 46-year-old Swiss man who was paralyzed after falling on ice has regained some action after undergoing the world’s first surgery, in which an implant was placed on his brain that uses artificial intelligence to control his thoughts, his walking. Reads the intentions of and transfers them. A second implant is placed in his abdomen to stimulate the correct muscles to move parts of his body the way his brain wants.

“Idea-driven movement” is how Onward, the Dutch company behind this technology, describes the pioneering process.

The company said, “While it is still too early to provide full results, we are pleased to report that the technology worked as expected and appears to have successfully regenerated his paralyzed arms, hands and fingers.”

More than a quarter million Americans have some degree of paralysis due to spinal cord damage, so technology like this could, one day, be life-changing for many people.

“If your hand is paralyzed and you can just open and close, that’s a huge change. Suddenly you can eat. You’re gaining freedom,” said Dr. Grégoire Courtin, a French neuroscientist who had the idea of ​​a ‘digital bridge’ between the brain and body a decade ago. Then, they had to wait for technology to make what was initially just a sci-fi dream happen.

“We remove a little bone; We replace this piece of bone with this set of electrodes, and then we close the skin,” said Dr. Jocelyn Bloch, a Swiss neurosurgeon who performed the surgery and is Courtin’s collaborator. “This implant will work wirelessly and activate spinal cord stimulation.”

At the beginning of the summer, Bloch and Courtin reached the other world for the first time: They fitted similar devices into Gert-Jan Oskum, a Dutch man who had lost the use of his legs in a bike accident, in order to allow him to walk naturally again. To get help in walking.

“Now, the implants are able to capture thoughts of my walking and move stimulators to my lower back,” Oskam told CNN for a story about artificial intelligence that will air on “The Whole Story.” Are capable of.” In October.

He is unable to walk fully with the implant. He may never be able to walk fully. But he can walk, and the more he walks, the more his body is actually repairing itself. “I talked to my boss about getting a desk extension so I could work on the computer while standing,” he said. “In the near future, I want to go for it.”

Courtin said the findings were unexpected. “We discovered that using this system for a long time through training causes nerve fibers to grow back. Therefore, we repair the nervous system with this technique. …It was like a dream, regenerative medicine!”

Restoring function of the arms and hands is even more difficult than restoring the ability to walk, he says.

“It’s more sophisticated,” said Dave Marver, Onward’s CEO. “Especially if you want to extend the restoration of motion not just to the arm but to the fingers. So, help them understand something or help them use different numbers.

Some ethicists are concerned that such thought-reading technology could be used maliciously to invade people’s privacy. Courtin and Bloch explain that their implant only decodes movement-related thoughts.

“We probably don’t understand the neural code well enough to actually extract your thoughts,” Courtin said. “Not yet, at least. “Maybe you’ll see it happen.”

Bloch continued, “I think there’s an easier way to do harm to someone than to go into their system and try to block them, you know?”

This latest surgery to restore movement of the hand and arm is part of trials that could last for a few more years.

“We’ll learn a lot from that first guy,” Marver said. “Then we’ll expand to four or five people, and then if that goes well, we’ll do a global pivotal trial and hopefully get FDA approval and make it available.”


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