Tetraplegic man walks again thanks to mind-reading exoskeleton

A tetraplegic man in France has walked for the first time in two years using an exoskeleton controlled by his brain signals.

The 28-year-old man, known only as Thibault, used the four-limbed robotic system to move his arms and walk, with the help of a ceiling-mounted harness for balance.

The exoskeleton, part of a trial by Clinatec and the University of Grenoble, works by recording and decoding brain signals.

Thibault, who fell 15m at a nightclub in 2015, had two implants put on the surface of the part of his brain that controls movement.

Electrodes on the implants read his brain activity and send the instructions to a computer which then controls the exoskeleton.

Thibault walked with the help of the exoskeleton (Picture: Fonds de dotation Clinatec)
The tetraplegic said it felt like being the 'first man on the Moon' (Picture: Fonds de dotation Clinatec)

Thibault said: “It was like [being the] first man on the Moon. I didn’t walk for two years. I forgot what it is to stand, I forgot I was taller than a lot of people in the room.”

Professor Alim-Louis Benabid, from the University of Grenoble, said the exoskeleton is the first semi-invasive wireless brain-computer system designed for long term use to activate all four limbs.

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He told medical journal The Lancet: “Previous brain-computer studies have used more invasive recording devices implanted beneath the outermost membrane of the brain, where they eventually stop working.

“They have also been connected to wires, limited to creating movement in just one limb, or have focused on restoring movement to patients’ own muscles.”

Thibault said he hadn't walked for two years before using the exoskeleton (Picture: Fonds de dotation Clinatec)

Prof Tom Shakespeare, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the exoskeleton is a long way from being a usable clinical possibility.

“A danger of hype always exists in this field,” he said.“Even if ever workable, cost constraints mean that hi-tech options are never going to be available to most people in the world with spinal cord injury.”

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