An unidentified 26-year-old man, who has been paralyzed from the waist down for five years, was recently able to move his legs and walk while using a walker and a harness for support (video below).
Doctors at the University of California at Irvine say this proof-of-concept study is the first time a paraplegic with a spine injury has walked without the use of manually-controlled artificial limbs, notes The Guardian.
The man walked almost 12 feet while wearing an electrode cap that sent his brain waves wirelessly to a computer.
The computer translated the brain waves, and sent commands to electrodes on the man's legs that commanded his nerves to move his leg muscles.
The man had to undergo mental training to send the correct brain messages to the computer, and physical training to build up his leg muscles.
After 20 sessions over 19 weeks, he was able to take his historic steps.
According to The Guardian, study co-lead Dr. An Do told BBC Radio 4:
It’s not so much that he’s thinking "move the right leg and than move the left leg." What happens is that the computer system detects when the brain waves change from a state of not walking into a state of walking.
When the computer detects that a person is walking, based on these brain waves, it turns on the electrical stimulator, which starts creating muscle contractions in the right leg first, and then the left leg; right leg, left leg. And then it keeps on doing this automatically until he stops thinking about walking, then it shuts it off and keeps him in a standing position. So really he has the control of a general concept of walk or not walk.
In the future, the research team wants to do make the entire system implantable in the human body so that an external computer is not needed, reports Live Science.
The study was published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation on Sept. 23.