Four years ago, Thibault, a 28-year-old from Lyon, lost mobility in his arms and legs after a fall. He was recently able to regain mobility thanks to revolutionary technology developed by Clinatec, a biomedical research centre in Grenoble. A first, both for him and for the medical community.
It took a decade of work to develop this prototype. It all started with a medical hypothesis: when limbs stop moving, the brain continues to send electrical signals.
This might be what causes "phantom limb syndrome," the pain amputees feel in their missing limbs. "The brain is still capable of generating commands that would normally move the arms and legs, there's just nothing there to carry them out," says AFP Professor Louis Benabid, lead author of this study.
With this knowledge, researchers implanted electrodes inside Thibault's skull. These electrodes capture the signals sent by brain activity and translate them into motor signals. But to achieve a functional prototype, Thibault had to train on a simulator for two years.
First, by making an avatar on a screen perform movements, so he could "progressively relearn" them, he says. He can now walk, bend his arms and lift his shoulders."Brain plasticity allows us to figure out what commands to send to achieve more flexible, natural movements."
For now, this exoskeleton is still in the prototype stage but it will soon be tested on other people. It may, therefore, soon be possible for disabled people to regain mobility using nothing but their minds.