A cutting-edge implant allows some paralyzed patients to walk, swim, and cycle again. Epidural electrical stimulation (EES) uses artificial intelligence to trigger the spinal cord to activate torso and leg muscles. The next step could be linking the brain directly with various parts of the body.
Our Creator designed the amazing human body with order and precision. (Colossians 1:16) When breakdowns happen, scientists often borrow God’s blueprint to improve human life.
“Our stimulation algorithms are still based on imitating nature,” says neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine. He co-led the research with neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch.
“We can activate the spinal cord like the brain would do naturally to have the patient stand, walk, swim, or ride a bike,” Courtine says. Patients in the study were all able to stand and walk just one day after the device’s activation.
Here’s how EES works: Doctors attach soft leads (wires leading to/from an electrical device) underneath a patient’s vertebrae. They connect the leads to a pacemaker inserted into the patient’s abdomen. The patient activates the leads with remote controls on a walker and a wirelessly connected tablet. The tablet forwards signals to the pacemaker, and the pacemaker stimulates specific nerve cells, allowing the patient to move.
Michael Roccati completely severed his spinal cord in a motorbike crash. The 29-year-old has had no feeling in his legs for over four years.
He became part of the EES trial. Bloch implanted leads on his spinal cord.
Later, Roccati tried the system. He pressed the button on the right side of his walker and took a step forward with his left leg. He did the same thing with the left button, and his right foot moved forward. Roccati was walking!
“The first few steps were incredible—a dream come true!” Roccati exclaims. “I’ve been through some pretty intense training,” he says. “I can now go up and down stairs, and I hope to be able to walk one kilometer [just over half a mile] by this spring.”
Two other patients have also successfully tested the new system.
At this time, the device cannot be used every day. But it could expand the activities those with severe spinal injuries can participate in.
Although pleased with the EES results, scientists are already looking ahead at what could still be done.
“The next step is to start earlier, just after the injury, when the potential for recovery is much larger,” Bloch says.
The EES team also hopes to artificially re-link the spinal cord and the brain directly. Someday, walking could start with thought alone—no computer needed.
Why? God designed every atom in the universe—as well as how those atoms interact. Humans are still learning from what He made and harnessing that knowledge to do acts of mercy.