A paralysed man, Michel Roccati, has regained the ability to walk thanks to an electrical implant created by a team of Swiss scientists. Roccati was paralysed in a motorcycle accident five years ago and had no feeling at all in his legs. This is the first time someone with a complete cut in their spinal cord has been able to walk.
The implant, inserted on the spinal cord and attached to individual nerve fibres, helps to amplify the signals the brain sends to the legs. Before the treatment, Roccati’s spinal cord was too weak to relay these signals but now this is no longer the case thanks to the technology. Roccati is one of nine people who have received the implant and all have made progress in their movements and taken steps towards walking. Roccati was praised by doctors for his steely resolve and determination to do as much as he could to get better. Prof Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon and part of the team of innovators, called him “incredible”.
Aside from being able to move his legs, the implant has been shown to have other positive impacts. Hypotension was shown to be reduced as the technology helped increase blood pressure. This side effect was praised by the patients receiving treatment with one stating “it’s the small things like that, that can make a big difference.” The implant isn’t expected to be used routinely just yet and there is still a long way to go according to Prof Grégoire Courtine, who worked on the project. He hopes the implant will soon be used in conjunction with stem cell developments to support those impacted by spinal cord injury so they will be able to live more actively again.