For those with paraplegia following spinal cord injury (SCI), a wheelchair is their primary means of mobility. However, this can often lead to medical co-morbidities that contribute significantly to SCI-related medical care costs. According to surveys these patients highly prioritise restoration of walking as a way to improve their quality of life.
A recent paper by King et al. looked at the feasibility of using a brain-computer interface to give paraplegic patients the chance to walk again. The procedure involved linking an electroencephalogram-based system to a functional electrical stimulation system on leg muscles, which can then be controlled by thought. The study used a physically active 26 year-old male who underwent virtual reality training in order to reactivate the areas of the brain responsible for gait, and reconditioning of leg muscles using electro-stimulation. Over 19 weeks the patient was able to successfully complete 30 over-ground walking tests with no adverse events.
The authors concluded that these results provide proof-of-concept for using direct brain control to restore basic walking. Although the current system is likely to be too cumbersome for full-scale adoption, it may represent a precursor to a future, fully implantable system.
— Peter Chilton, Research Fellow
- King CE, Wang PT, McCrimmon CM, Chou CCY, Do AH, Nenadic Z. The feasibility of a brain-computer interface functional electrical stimulation system for the restoration of overground walking after paraplegia. J Neuroeng Rehab. 2015; 12: 80.