Eight people with long-term complete paralysis have regained partial control and feeling in their limbs, according to a new study.
An international team of researchers followed eight patients who had suffered paralysis from three to 13 years who suffered from spinal chord injuries. Over a year, they used brain-machine interface technology — specifically an Oculus Rift — that used their brain activity to simulate control of their legs.
“We couldn’t have predicted this surprising clinical outcome when we began the project,” said Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, who led the research team.
The brain-machine interface connected the brain activity with prosthetics, such as artificial limbs. After seven months, many patients saw improvement. After a year, four of the patients experienced sensation and regained muscle-control to the point that doctors changed their diagnoses from complete paralysis to partial.
Almost all of the patients saw improvement in bladder control and bowel movements, which reduced their risk of infection, which is the leading cause of death in patients who are paralyzed.
But the most dramatic improvement was seen in a 32-year-old woman. At the beginning of the study, she was unable to stand using braces. However, eventually, she was able to walk with a walker. After just over a year, she was able to move her legs while supported with a harness.