A stunning new study published in Scientific Reports showed that eight patients with spinal cord injuries displayed signs of muscle restoration in parts of their lower limbs after training with a brand new, non-invasive procedure. Most of these volunteers were unable to even move their limbs until this point, but they were now able to walk with the help of the exoskeleton, VR, and their physical therapists.

A winning combination

Duke University neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis and his associates have created a brilliant new system that has already shown positive signs on eight patients that trained extensively on the regime.

By using BMI’s, exoskeletons and VR, Nicolelis was able to tap into the activity occurring in the brain of his patients and simulate full control of their legs, thereby re-engaging those parts of the spinal cord that were previously injured.

“We couldn’t have predicted this surprising clinical outcome when we began the project. What we’re showing in this paper is that patients who used a brain-machine interface for a long period of time experienced improvements in motor behavior, tactile sensations, and visceral functions below the level of the spinal cord injury.” Said Nicolelis in a recent press release.

A historic first

This brand of treatment, along with the quality of results, is truly a first for medical science. No researcher has ever seen this level of recovery in patients who have been paralyzed for long periods of time.

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Five of the patients have been unable to walk for at least five years, while two of the volunteers have been paralyzed for over a decade.

Until this point, BMI’s have been quite successful in creating successful links between the human brain and a computer. An experiment conducted earlier this year even showed a monkey control a wheel chair using nothing my synaptic impulses, although a chip had to implanted in the brain of the monkey to attain this result. The procedure created by Nicolelis is completely non-invasive, and relied heavily on VR to bridge necessary gaps.

Visualizing progress

The exoskeleton used by the team could be controlled using BMI by the volunteers themselves. Virtual reality allowed the patients to visualize the process better and create a mind-body awareness that was previously unavailable. The patients could clearly see the representations of their own bodies and even received gentle tactile feedback when they were hooked to the VR systems. VR clearly has infinite possibilities, but this is one of the most important areas it has been applied in thus far.

Nicolelis believes that certain nerves in the spinal cord that survive injuries go inactive after extended periods of time, but they were possibly re-engaged during this experiment. The team is now looking to carry out this experiment using subjects who have been recently handicapped in order to check for the possibility of quicker treatments. Regardless of whatever happens from this point on, this miracle breakthrough is sure to change the lives of millions of people around the world.