Brain-Machine Interfaces Show Promising Results for Paraplegics

Last year, an associate professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Irvine, led a research team that studied the concept of computer-assisted therapy for individuals with spinal cord injuries. Paraplegic subjects had their brains connected to muscle stimulators that allowed them to take steps and experience sensory feedback.

The findings of the researchers in California were similar to the results gained more recently by the Walk Again Project in São Paulo, Brazil. That team used a virtual reality system in conjunction with a robotic exoskeleton. The eight people participating in the study had been paralyzed for years. Electrodes fitted to their heads allowed their brain activity to move their legs within the mechanical exoskeleton. The feedback from the virtual reality interface allowed the patients to experience the sensation of movement. Over the course of a year, the patients regained a portion of muscle control and physical sensation even when they were not wearing the brain-interface machine.

Researchers considered these results to be extraordinary for people who were not expected to have any mobility again. The neuroscientists hope that this is the beginning of effective therapies for paraplegic patients. Throughout the United States, approximately 282,000 people live with spinal cord injuries. Research by the World Health Organization indicates that traffic accidents, violence and falls cause most of these injuries.

Even with the promise of rehabilitative therapies on the horizon for paraplegics and quadriplegics, a person with injuries that severe would still need extensive therapy to regain any function. If the person's back injury resulted from a car crash caused by a reckless driver, then an attorney might assist the person in filing a personal injury lawsuit. Legal action could allow the person to collect compensation for medical bills, lost income and the effects having of long-term disability.

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