Using VR and an exoskeletons to help paraplegics regain movement

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After twelve months, eight patients and 2,052 sessions spread over 1,958 hours, Duke University is publishing some promising results from a study seeking to demonstrate the ability for brain-machine interfaces to help restore mobility in humans.

The study, which appeared this week in Scientific Reports, looked at a group of paraplegic patients suffering from a chronic spinal cord injury. The system utilized a brain-machine interface featuring an Oculus Rift headset that simulated the effect of having a neurological connection to their lower limbs. The system was also capable of moving a pair of robotic actuators to actually create movement.

All eight patients experienced some level of recovery from the process, both in terms of the return of sensation to the lower limbs and increased muscle control. A full half of the patients were upgraded to an incomplete paraplegia.

“Overall,” the study’s authors write, “the results obtained in our study suggest that BMI applications should be upgraded from merely a new type of assistive technology to help patients regain mobility, through the use of brain-controlled prosthetic devices, to a potentially new neurorehabilitation therapy, capable of inducing partial recovery of key neurological functions.”

The promising results have opened the University up to potential future studies, including, ideally, one involving patients who experienced traumatic spinal cord injuries shortly before participating in the BMI-training.