All three men, aged between 29 and 41, suffered catastrophic injuries to their thoracic spine following motorbike accidents between one to nine years before receiving the new treatment.
Following complete spinal cord injury, automatic messages sent from the brain to perform activities such as walking do not reach the nerves. At present, there is no treatment to aid the spinal cord to heal itself.
Previously, scientists have tried to stimulate nerves through the back of the spine, using broad electrical fields emitted by implanted devices.
Now, neurosurgeons have redesigned the devices so that electrical signals enter the spine from the sides instead. AI algorithms then instruct electrodes on the device to send signals to stimulate the individual nerves that control the trunk and leg muscles in the correct sequence for activities such as standing up from a chair, sitting down and walking.
The software is tailored to each person's anatomy and is remotely controlled by a touchscreen tablet.
The men were able to take their first steps within an hour of having the prototype devices implanted into their spines and within six months regained the ability to walk, cycle and swim outside of the clinic.
The men needed help with weight bearing because their muscles have become weak from disuse and had to learn how to work with the technology. While they regained the ability to perform various activities, they did not however regain natural movements, but the more they 'practiced' lifting their muscles, the more fluid the movements became.
The hope now of course is to expand the trial and to commercialise the system. The extraordinary impact of this technology has the power to completely revolutionise the lives of those left paralysed following road traffic accidents and other catastrophic injuries, with people someday able to open their smartphone or watch and simply select an activity such as 'stand' or 'walk' with the device doing the rest by stimulating the appropriate nerves.
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