The chances of recovery for paraplegic patients were once considered nearly nil. But in 2014, 29-year-old Juliano Pinto, who faced complete paralysis below the chest, literally kicked off the opening match at the FIFA World Cup. Researchers had created a brain-machine interface (BMI) that allowed Pinto to control a robotic exoskeleton for the symbolic kickoff at São Paulo’s Corinthians Arena.
Fast forward two years, the Walk Again Project (WAP), the same nonprofit international research consortium that designed Pinto’s exoskeleton, is now using virtual reality to help paraplegic people regain partial sensation and muscle control in their lower limbs. According to a study published Aug. 11 in Scientific Reports, all eight patients who participated in the study have already gained some motor control.
“When we look at the brains of these patients when they got to us, we couldn’t detect any signal when we asked them to imagine walking again. There was no modulation of brain activity,” Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, the lead researcher from Duke University in North Carolina, said in a Scientific Reports call on Aug. 9. “It’s almost like the brain had erased the concept of moving by walking.”
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