- Michel Roccati, 30, got a spinal implant to help him walk again after a traumatic injury.
- He’s the first person to walk with a severed spine, even though he still cannot feel his legs.
- The implant sends signals to the parts of the spine that control movement.
Two years after his spine was completely severed in a motorcycle accident in 2017, Michel Roccati was able to walk, cycle, and climb the stairs with the help of a tablet-controlled device, he told the BBC.
Roccati, now 30, was one of three paralyzed men to test a prototype of a spinal implant modified to help them move their limbs. Researchers in Lausanne, Switzerland, developed and tested the device, and they published the results of the ongoing clinical trial in Nature Medicine Monday.
All three individuals who got the implant were able to stand and move their legs hours after surgery, researchers told NBC. It took a few days for them to use a walker rather than full-body support, but with months of therapy and practice in the lab, they’ve been able to regain some mobility in the real world.
Although the device is not a cure for spinal injuries, it’s allowed nine people with spinal injuries to walk again, neuroscientist and device co-developer Prof Grégoire Courtine told the BBC. Most of them use it for rehabilitation rather than walking around town — but the program includes a command for standing up and getting a drink at a bar.
For Roccati, the success was unprecedented. No one with a completely severed spinal cord has been able to walk freely, and he’s now able to use his device to exercise his muscles on a daily basis.
“I stand up, walk where I want to, I can walk the stairs — it’s almost a normal life,” Roccati told the BBC.
The device sends electrical pulses to Roccati’s spine
Roccati told the BBC he lived an active lifestyle before the accident and would often box, run, and do fitness training. His doctors said his resolve to stay active was helpful in his rehabilitation, and he could “use this technology to progress and be better and better,” Prof Jocelyne Bloch from the Lausanne University Hospital told the outlet.
Doctors have used spinal cord stimulation to treat chronic pain since the 1960s, according to a 2019 Nature News feature about the technology. Researchers began looking into similar treatments to restore locomotion after spinal injury a bit later on.
The device itself is a soft, flat electrode positioned between the spinal nerves and the vertebrae. Instead of targeting nerves associated with chronic pain, the Lausanne scientists modified the technology to send electric signals to the areas of the spine that control movement.
The user can then control their movements via tablet or smartphone using a software that delivers specific electric signals for requested actions, like taking a step or kicking the legs for swimming.
Courtesy By INSIDER