12 Aug 2016

Patient moves leg after 13 years in a wheelchair

8:25 pm on 12 August 2016

Patients with long-standing paralysis due to spinal injuries have gained some movement after train their brains to activate devices such as robotic limbs.

doctor holds picture of spinal xray

Photo: 123rf

Researchers in Brazil and the United States have managed to restore partial movement to a group of eight people, using the new technique.

The patients spent a year using virtual reality and simulated tactile techniques to train their brains to activate devices such as robotic limbs.

After 12 months, all eight could move muscles and feel contact in areas below their spinal injury.

One of them - 32 year old woman paralysed for more than a decade - may have experienced the most dramatic transformation.

At the outset of the trial undertaken at a clinic in Sao Paolo Brazil, she was unable to stand even with the help of braces.

Within 13 months she could walk without the help of braces and a therapist and could produce a walking motion while suspended from a harness.

The researchers believe that by learning to manipulate a robotic exo-skeleton, the brain's control over surviving nerves in the patient's spines are reawakened.

The results of the study have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Lead researcher Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University, told the BBC that while it was only a beginning, the results are very exciting.

"The moment we saw the first sign of this recovery, it was the greatest moment of my life by a long shot."

"When we saw the first patient moving her leg after 13 years in a wheelchair, that made it all worth it."

Mr Nicolelis took the global spotlight in June 2014 when a paraplegic wearing a robotic bodysuit he co-designed delivered the symbolic first kick at football's World Cup in Brazil.