An implant that restores communication between the brain and spinal cord appears to have helped a paralyzed patient stand and walk.

The device, featured in the journal Nature, was also found to improve his neurological recovery and the patient was able to walk on crutches even when the implant was disabled.

Spinal cord injury can interrupt communication between the brain and the area of ​​the spinal cord that controls walking, leading to paralysis. Some previous approaches to restoring movement to people with this type of paralysis have involved electrical stimulation of areas of the spinal cord to enable patients to stand and walk. However, this required patients to wear motion sensors and patients showed limited ability to adapt leg movements to changing terrain and demands.

Digitally connecting the brain and spinal cord could, according to the researchers, improve coordination control and range of muscle activity and restore more natural and adaptive control of standing and walking in these patients.

Neuroscientist Grégoire Courtin and colleagues tested a brain-spine interface (BSI), which consists of an implanted recording and stimulation system that creates a direct connection between the brain and areas of the spinal cord involved in walking. The BSI was able to be calibrated within minutes and remained reliable and stable for over a year, even at home without supervision.

The patient reported that the BSI allows a natural control of his leg movements to stand, walk, climb stairs and even cross complex terrain. In addition, with this device, his neurological recovery was also improved and the patient regained the ability to walk with crutches even when the BSI was turned off.