Virtual Reality Training Is Helping Paraplegics Move Again

Virtual Reality Training Is Helping Paraplegics Move Again

Eight people who have spent years paralysed from spinal cord injuries have regained partial sensation and muscle control in their lower limbs after training with brain-controlled robotics, including a virtual reality system.

Over 12 months the patients used a brain-controlled exoskeleton, virtual-reality environments and training on non-invasive brain controlled virtual avatar bodies, with all showing improvement — and one woman able to move her legs voluntarily for the first time in 13 years.

Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMIs) have emerged as potential options to restore mobility in patients who are severely paralyzed as a result of SCIs or neurodegenerative disorders. However, to date no study has suggested that long-term training associating BMI-based paradigms and physical training could trigger neurological recovery.

Using a multi-stage neuro-rehabilitation protocol, Miguel Nicolelis and colleagues investigated the impact training could have on the ability to walk autonomously using a brain-controlled exoskeleton in eight participants with SCIs (seven of which were diagnosed with total paralysis below the level of the SCI). The protocol included using a brain-controlled robotic exoskeleton, virtual-reality environments and training on non-invasive brain controlled virtual avatar bodies with visual and tactile feedback.

All participants in the study experienced improvements in sensations (including pain localisation and fine/crude touch) and voluntary muscle control below the level of the spinal cord lesion, suggesting that long-term training can induce partial neurological recovery below the level of a spinal cord injury in paraplegics.

[Springer Nature]