Stick your games and pornos, there’s no beating this virtual reality story. Eight paralysed patients have managed to regain feeling in their legs, thanks at least in part to VR simulations.
The Walk Again Project in Sao Paulo saw the group of eight -- five of whom had been paralysed for at least five years and two for over a decade -- use a VR system they could control through their brain signals, which were monitored by a set of 11 electrodes attached to a cap.
They were asked to imagine walking in the digital world.
It reportedly took seven months before any encouraging signs were spotted, but after 12 months, four had their conditions upgraded from 'complete' to 'partial' paralysis because of how much muscle control they managed to regain. They were to operate brain-controlled exoskeletons and robotic arms, and the majority of the group said the training also helped with bladder and bowel control.
"To our big surprise, what we noticed is that long-term training with brain-machine interfaces triggers a partial neurological recovery,” said Dr Miguel Nicolelis from Duke University in North Carolina. “What we didn't expect and what we observed is that some of these patients regained voluntary control of muscles in the legs below the level of the lesion and regained sensitivity below the level of the spinal cord injury."
It's not yet clear if the VR simulations were completely responsible for the patients' improvements, as more established physiotherapy techniques, based on assisted walking in a harness, were also used. However, it's still an astonishing breakthrough, and a new trial for people who've suffered more recent spinal injuries is currently being planned. [BBC via Scientific Reports]