Paralyzed man can walk again thanks to a mind-controlled implant

A man paralyzed from the waist down was able to voluntarily control and move his legs with the help of an electrical implant in his spine.

  • Thanks to a groundbreaking surgery, a paralyzed man regained the ability to briefly walk for a short period of time.
  • An electrode implanted into the epidural space of the spinal cord gave the patient limited function of his lower extremities.
  • It's thought that the mechanism behind this could be reopening a line of communication between the nerves to the brain.

It seems as if we've reached another milestone in our continual march forward towards human machine symbiosis. Recently, a 29-year-old man from Wisconsin, Jered Chinnock, who'd been paralyzed below the waist for four years was able to briefly walk again thanks to an exciting new surgery.

Jered slowly regained his ability to stand and walk through spinal cord stimulation combined with months of physical therapy. The aftermath of the harrowing accident initially left Jered with no hope. But thanks to some advances in neuroscience and a study he was part of since 2016, he was able to walk at one point over 100 yards – the length of an American football field!

Chinnock had an electrode implanted into his spine by a neurosurgery team led by Dr. Kendall Lee, the director of Mayo Clinic's Neural Engineering Laboratories. Once the stimulator was turned on, Jered was able to slightly move his legs.

One hundred and thirteen rehabilitation visits later, Chinnock dazzled researchers with feats such as: a combined 16 minutes of walking, 111 yards walked and a step speed of 13 yards a minute. These things have never been seen before with a patient who's been diagnosed with complete paraplegia.

This electronic-spinal control connection is taking scientists into a thrilling and new space.

Mind control or just the spinal cord connection renewed?

Mayo Clinic Images

The electrode implant was surgically inserted into the outermost part of the spinal canal and, in this case, right underneath the injured area. It connects to a pulse generator device which was installed below the skin of Chinnock's abdomen. The battery in the abdomen was connected by a wire to the electrode, which was also laid underneath his skin. The two pieces communicate wirelessly with an outside controller.

This new electrode mechanism working successfully is a big deal, because there's no need for a physically intrusive brain surgery in order to change the function of the limbs. In a sense it's all happening through thoughts alone.

Dr. Lee stated that, "The reason why this is important is because the patient's own mind, thought, was able to drive movement in his legs. Just as important is that we were able to get him to stand independently and take his own steps."

Although he was able to walk at length during these sessions, there were some caveats to the experiment. Once the remote controlled electrode was turned off, he'd become paralyzed again. He also did not have renewed sensation in his legs.

"It's very exciting, but still very early in the research stage," said Lee.

First step towards cyborg medical advancements?

This innovative surgery was published in a recent issue of Nature Medicine. This could be just the beginning for utilizing this new electrode mechanism inside the body. Doctors are ecstatic about this medical breakthrough, but there's still a lot that they don't understand about how an electrical stimulation was able take a severed spinal cord and restore movement.

"Now I think the real challenge starts, and that's understanding how this happened, why it happened, and which patients will respond," said Dr. Kristin Zhao, a co-principal investigator.

In the closing notes of the paper, the authors confidently state:

We have demonstrated that human spinal networks can be transformed years after SCI to reach physiologic states that generate coordinated and robust spinal motor outputs to generate independent stepping and standing.

These results support the concept that these types of rehabilitation efforts can be used in the future to help brave paralyzed people, such as Chinnock, regain their ability to walk and function again.


LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less