Swiss doctors help paralyzed man regain ability to walk with implant devices

After suffering a motorbike accident in 2011 that left Gert-Jan Oskam unable to walk, Dr. Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon at Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland, inserted a device on his spine in 2018 that could send out electrical impulses, enabling him to walk with a walker after intensive training, though the movement was awkward and required pushing a button. Then, in 2023, Bloch implanted additional devices inside his brain to build a “digital bridge” between the legs and the brain. After more training, Oskam is able to move much more naturally; he has more precise control of his joints, can stand, and walks with a walker, including up stairs. What’s more, Oskam can still walk with the device turned off, which suggests that the device may actually be helping the nervous system to rebuild itself.

Neuroscientist GrĂ©goire Courtine, who helped lead the device’s development and is a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, hopes to prove the technology safe and effective and have it available to the wider public in the next decade. But the team is still searching for ways to push the technology even further, and enable paralyzed people to walk fully “normally,” says Courtine.