Mind-Controlled 'Exoskeleton' Restores Movement to Totally Paralyzed Man

FRIDAY, Oct. 4, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Unable to move either their arms or their legs, quadriplegics are almost completely paralyzed. But in a major breakthrough, a team of French researchers has given one patient the ability to move all four limbs.

How? With the assistance of a whole-body exoskeleton controlled by a patient’s brain waves.

“For the first time, a quadriplegic patient was able to walk and control both arms using this neuro-prosthetic, which records, transmits and decodes brain signals in real time to control an exoskeleton,” said project chief Guillaume Charvet. The experiment was launched by the biomedical research center Clinatec in Grenoble, France.

At the heart of the two-year investigation was a single patient: Thibault, a 30-year-old man from Lyon who does not want his surname used. Four years ago, Thibault lost the ability to move any of his limbs following an accident that caused him to fall more than 40 feet.

But in 2017, two small wireless sensors (each containing 64 electrodes) were implanted on opposite sides of his brain, in an area central to both movement and sensation control.

The sensors would record and wirelessly convey brain signaling to the exoskeleton, which could then turn it into machine-enabled movement.

To facilitate that process, Thibault spent more than three months working with a high-tech computer simulation program to learn how to control an on-screen representation — much like a video-game avatar — of his appendages.

With his sensor-read thoughts, Thibault eventually learned to manipulate those digital arms and legs, so he could virtually walk and pick up virtual objects.

Those skills were then attempted on the exoskeleton, which looks like a high-tech suit of white armor split in half and fitted to the patient from behind, like a rigid cape.

Outfitted with 14 joints and 14 degrees of freedom, the exoskeleton is designed to enable movement in about 14 unique ways, the researchers noted.

To see how many of those moves he could actually make, Thibault underwent a series of arm and leg movement tests. After 45 sessions in the exoskeleton, the study team deemed the final results a success.