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Paralysed man able to walk thanks to electronic implants in his brain

A man who was paralysed from the waist down after a cycling accident 12 years ago is now able to walk again.

Gert-Jan Oskam is the first paralysed person to be able to walk by simply thinking about it due to electronic brain implants. The implants transmit his thoughts from his brain to his legs and feet via a second implant on his spine.

The procedure is still at the experimental stage and many years away from being available to paralysed patients. However, leading spinal injuries charity Spinal Research has said the progress is “very encouraging."

Professor Jocelyne Bloch, the neurosurgeon who inserted the implants said it was the research team's aim to get it out of the lab and into the clinic as soon as possible.

Mr Oskam, 40, said this has changed his life as he is now able to stand and climb stairs. He said: "It has been a long journey, but now I can stand up and have a beer with my friend. It's a pleasure that many people don't realise."

The operation itself involved two circular holes being cut into Mr Oskam’s skull above the parts of the brain that controls movement. Two disc-shaped implants were then inserted which wirelessly transmit signals to the two sensors attached to a helmet on his head.

The brain signals (Mr Oskam’s intentions to move) are translated via an algorithm which instructs a second implant on his spinal cord attached to his verve endings to move his leg and foot muscles.

As the two implants work together, they create a smoother more natural movement when Mr Oskam walks, which has been a great development in comparison to previous spinal-only implants in other paralysed patients.

Due to the system being in the experimental phase, it can’t be used continuously therefore can only be used for an hour or so at a time with a few weeks in between to recuperate. The physical act of walking is constantly training the user’s muscles and researchers believe this suggests the damaged nerves may be re-growing.

Elliott Clifton-Thompson, Solicitor in the personal injury team at Potter Rees Dolan, said:

“It is a very promising sign to see the incredible work being done globally to help those who have suffered spinal cord injuries. The possibilities for those injured is huge. Not only getting back up and walking, but also building confidence for re-engaging socially with friends in the community or finding a greater level of intimacy with partners. I hope that in years to come we will be looking at implants to provide a digital bridge between the brain and spinal cord for our clients, to not only help with community re-engagement at an early stage, but also to hopefully facilitate early nerve recovery.”

Elliott is a solicitor in personal injury here at Potter Rees Dolan. Should you have any queries about spinal injuries or indeed any other aspect of personal injury and wish to speak to Elliott or any other member of the team, please contact us on 0800 027 2557 or contact Elliott directly.