VR is proving to be highly a versatile technology. Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 Allan Ajifo
In a remarkable breakthrough, a brain training system has restored movement in eight paraplegic patients.
The team behind the Walk Again Project, which aims to teach paralysis patients how to walk using a robotic exoskeleton, has reported that all of the participants have unexpectedly regained some of the movement in their legs after several months of training.
The system uses a virtual reality headset and a special brain-computer interface to move a virtual avatar using the patient's own mind. While intended only as a way to train the participants how to operate the exoskeleton, it seems the program has had a physical effect on them as well.
The team believes that the training may have reactivated what few nerves remain in the patients' spines and helped to encourage their brains to form new pathways as a result.
"While patient one was initially not even able to stand using braces when placed in an orthostatic posture, after 10 months of training the same patient became capable of walking using a walker, braces and the assistance of one therapist," the researchers wrote.
"At this stage, this patient became capable of producing voluntary leg movements mimicking walking, while suspended overground. In another example, patient seven was capable of walking with two crutches and lower limb orthoses while requiring no assistance by a therapist."
It seems that the project has, quite by accident, discovered a new type of therapy that is capable of restoring at least some degree of movement in patients previously considered to be beyond hope.
How far they will be able to take this in the coming years will be very interesting to see indeed.