It takes a village to make a monkey walk again. Swiss scientists in collaboration with a host of others have used a neuroprosthesis to enable paralyzed primates to walk within two weeks of spinal injury. One monkey learned to walk again within six days.
We’re going to hear a lot more about brain-computer interfaces, brain implants, and brain-spine interfaces in the next few years as the technology advances rapidly. We wrote about work with “bionic spine” implants by scientists at the Florey Institute of Neurosciences in Melbourne, Australia earlier this year. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical College use a brain implant to enable a sense of touch in a robotic prosthetic arm.
Now neuroscientists at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have used implants in the brain and spine to enable paralyzed primates to walk again. The implants connect to a neuroprosthetic that bypasses the site of spinal cord injury. The implants transmit and receive signals wirelessly so there are no external prosthetic structures or tethered electronics. To speed the transition from primates to humans, the researchers used components that previously were approved for use in humans trials. That next step may take a while, however. “This is the first time that neurotechnology restores locomotion in primates,” says EPFL neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine. “But there are many challenges ahead and it may take several years before all the components of this intervention can be tested in people.”
The brain-spine interface concept originated at EPFL and was developed by an international collaboration including Medtronic, Brown University and Fraunhofer ICT-IMM. Testing involved the University of Bordeaux, Motac Neuroscience and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV). A village indeed.