A paralyzed man is able to move using his brainpower thanks to a  ‘neural-bypass procedure’ that has been heralded a world first. Neurosurgeons achieved the world first by transmitting signals from the 26-year-old American’s brain to electrodes placed around both knees.

The man, who had been paralyzed five years earlier following a motorcycle accident, is the first to walk without relying on manually operated robotic limbs.

The “neural bypass” procedure generated impulses triggering movement that avoided the torn spinal cord, the University of California study discovered.

After extensive training, the man managed to step falteringly along a 12ft (3.66m) course while a harness and walking frame prevented him from falling.

Dr An Do, from the University of California at Irvine, who co-led the study, said: “Even after years of paralysis the brain can still generate robust brain waves that can be harnessed to enable basic walking.

“We showed that you can restore intuitive, brain-controlled walking after a complete spinal cord injury. This non-invasive system for leg muscle stimulation is a promising method and is an advance of our current brain-controlled systems that use virtual reality or a robotic exoskeleton.”

Although the man is still a long way from the freedom of movement he had before his accident, the fact that he was able to walk at all is a major achievement. The nerves of the spinal cord are unable to regenerate and severing them usually results in irreversible life-long paralysis.

British charities said they were excited by the news, which could offer hope to thousands of people who have suffered spinal cord injury. Estimates suggest there are 40,000 such cases in the UK, with 1,200 injuries which result in paralysis each year.

Further work is needed to establish whether the procedure can be used to restore a practical level of walking ability and help other patients.

Image credit: Flickr

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