Swiss scientists have helped monkeys with spinal cord injuries regain control of non-functioning limbs in research which might one day lead to paralysed people being able to walk again.
The scientists, who treated the monkeys with a neuroprosthetic interface that acted as a wireless bridge between the brain and spine, say they have started small feasibility studies in humans to trial some components.
“The link between the decoding of the brain and the stimulation of the spinal cord — to make this communication exist — is completely new,” said Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon at the Lausanne University Hospital who surgically placed the brain and spinal cord implants in the monkey experiments.
Gregoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) which led the work, cautioned that there are major challenges ahead and “it may take several years before this intervention can become a therapy for humans.”
Publishing their results in Nature on Wednesday, the team said the interface works by decoding brain activity linked to walking movements and relaying that to the spinal cord through electrodes.