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MIT Technology Review

An electric implant helps a paralyzed man walk the length of a football field

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Two new reports suggest that electrically stimulating the spinal cords of accident victims can let them walk again.

New approach: Paralysis is caused when a person’s spinal cord gets injured or severed in an accident. Doctors are testing whether implanting electrical stimulators below the injury can restore people’s ability to take steps.

Long walk: Researchers at the Mayo Clinic say Jered Chinnock, paralyzed at the waist in 2013 while riding a snowmobile, has been able to walk 111 yards with assistance. Mayo reported the results in Nature Medicine and put out a video.

How it works: Nobody is entirely sure, although the electrical shocks must fill in for the missing nerve signals from the brain. Doctors at the University of Louisville reported on four other cases in the New England Journal of Medicine. Some of the patients have been able to go home and get around with a walker.

Next steps: In the future, spinal injury patients may receive brain implants that get connected to stimulators in their spines, restoring the brain-body connection and perhaps enabling fluid movements. This kind of brain-machine interface has already been tested successfully in monkeys.