Virtual Reality Is Making Strides to Help Paraplegics Walk
There’s hope for paraplegics who are told they’ll never be able to walk again. Brain-machine interfaces provide a strategy aimed at restoring mobility in severely paralyzed patients, according to a study published on Aug. 11 in Scientific Reports. The eight patients who participated in the study have gained some motor control. The article, “Paraplegics Are Learning to Walk Again with Virtual Reality,” published in Quartz explains how the process works:
When we look at the brains of these patients when they got to us, we couldn’t detect any signal when we asked them to imagine walking again. There was no modulation of brain activity,” Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, the lead researcher from Duke University in North Carolina, said in a Scientific Reports call on Aug. 9. “It’s almost like the brain had erased the concept of moving by walking.” To regain movement, patients were first placed in virtual reality environment, where they learned to use brain activity to control an avatar version of themselves and make it walk around a soccer field. …They also designed a long sleeve T-shirt which would provide haptic feedback to the patients’ forearms, stimulating the sensation of touching the ground. The arms were treated as phantom limbs, substituting for the legs, fooling the brain into feeling like the patient was walking.
Each patient regained different mobility and had different recovery periods, “but all were able to feel sensation again in the pelvic region and lower limbs, and also learned to control some of their muscles, their bladder and bowel function for the first time in many years,” according to the article.
Scientific Reports, “Long-Term Training with a Brain-Machine Interface-Based Gait Protocol Induces Partial Neurological Recovery in Paraplegic Patients.”
Quartz, “Paraplegics Are Learning to Walk Again with Virtual Reality.”
BBC News, “Paraplegic in Robotic Suit Kicks Off World Cup.”