Brain Implant Helps Paralyzed Monkeys Walk Again

The neuroprosthesis has yet to be tested in humans.

Nov 10, 2016
Joshua A. Krisch

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, J.M.GARGTwo rhesus macaques have learned to walk again, thanks to a brain implant that is the first to restore walking ability in paralyzed monkeys. In a November 9 study published in Nature, Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and colleagues describe how one monkey regained its ability to walk two weeks after the procedure, while the other was back on its feet in just six days. “It was a big surprise for us,” Courtine told The Guardian.

Courtine’s team placed electrodes in each paralyzed monkey’s brain, plus a separate set of electrodes in the animals’ spinal cords. After allowing the monkeys some time to recover, the researchers set up a wireless device that picked up signals from the brain electrodes, passed them along to a computer where they could be interpreted, and then sent them to the electrodes implanted in the spine. “In a few seconds you saw the leg moving, and that’s something that would not have happened naturally,” study coauthor Jocelyn Bloch, a neurosurgeon at Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland, told NPR’s Shots.

Courtine pointed out that the electrodes and other components are already approved for human use. “I don’t imagine someone walking down the street with a brain-spine interface. That’s a bit extravagant at this stage,” he told The Guardian. “But in the next five years, someone with a spinal injury could have a better recovery after being implanted with this.”