Injuries to the spinal cord are debilitating because they prevent the transmission of nerve impulses from the body to the brain. If the brain doesn’t receive sensory input, it can’t control the muscles that help us move. According to a recent ArsTechnica article though, a new spinal implant is helping paralyzed people move again within just hours of receiving it. The researchers behind it built a computer model and used it to control the stimulation of the leg muscles in three subjects. Once the implants were activated, all of the subjects were able take assisted steps on a treadmill.
The team continued to fine-tune the model, and as it got more precise the subjects were able to move more freely. Eventually, they were able to stand without help, and walk with the support of a walker and implants in their abdomen that respond to controls in the handels of the walker. Perhaps the most surprising part is that some subjects actually regained the ability to exert voluntary muscle control in limbs that were formerly paralyzed. With practice, the weak neural connections strengthened to provide a restored pathway between the brain and muscles.