For the first time, it is tested a brain implant combined with an implant that stimulates the spinal cord so that a quadriplegic patient to be able to move his hands and fingers again with thoughtthe Dutch company Onward announced today Wednesday.

The combination of these technologies has already allowed a paraplegic patient to regain some control of his legs and walk, according to the study published last May in the scientific journal Nature. But it is the first time it is used for the upper limbs.

“The mobility of the hands is more complicated,” surgeon Jocelyn Block, who performed the implants, told AFP. In relation to walking, in this case there is no question of balance, but the muscular system of the hands is very different, with many small, different muscles, which are activated simultaneously to make certain movements.

The patient, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a 46-year-old Swiss man who became a quadriplegic after a fall. The two operations took place last month at the Vaudois University Hospital Center (CHUV) in Lausanne. The first concerned the placement of the brain implant, measuring a few centimeters, which was developed by the French company CEA-Clinatech. The second was to place the electrodes manufactured by Onward in the spinal cord.

The brain implant (or brain-computer interface, BCI), records the areas of the brain that are activated when the patient “thinks” of a movement and transfers the information to the electrodes, creating a kind of “digital bridge”.

The experiment “is going well so far,” said Block, who co-founded Onward and remains an adviser to the company. “We are recording the brain activity and we know that the stimulation is working (…) But it is too early to call progress what (the patient) can do so far,” he added.

The patient is in the “training” phase so that the brain implant learns how to recognize the various movements he wishes to make. It will take “a few months” to complete the process, Dr. Block said. Two more patients are due to join the trial and full results will be announced later.

Brain implants have already been used and allowed a patient to “handle” an exoskeleton. Battelle used a brain implant to restore movement to a patient’s arm, but with electrodes attached to the forearm to directly stimulate the muscles.

According to the director of Onward, this company’s technology is “unique” because it restores movement with spinal cord stimulation, combined with a brain implant. The technology could become widely used by the end of the decade.