- · Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke
A man paralysed in all four limbs has been able to walk while wearing an exoskeleton controlled by his brain signals.
The 28-year-old man, known as Thibault, was strapped into the exoskeleton, which was mounted to the ceiling harness for balance.
Using signals from his brain, the four-limbed robotic system was able to help Thibault walk across the room.
The experiment is part of a two-year trial by Clinatec and the University of Grenoble.
Thiabault was an optician before he fell 15m in an incident at a nightclub in 2015.
As part of the trial, Thibault had surgery to place two implants on the surface of the brain, covering parts which control movement.
Sixty-four electrodes on each implant read the brain activity and beamed the instructions to a computer.
The software was able to read the brain cells and turn the instructions into movement of the exoskeleton.
He said: "It was like [being the] first man on the Moon. I didn’t walk for two years. I forgot what it is to stand, I forgot I was taller than a lot of people in the room."
A previous patient who was to take part in the study had to be excluded because a technical probe stopped the brain implants communicating with the algorithm. The implants were removed.
Professor Alim-Louis Benabid of the University of Grenoble, said the exoskeleton used is the first semi-invasive wireless brain-computer system designed for long term use to activate all four limbs.
“Previous brain-computer studies have used more invasive recording devices implanted beneath the outermost membrane of the brain, where they eventually stop working,” he told medical journal The Lancet.
“They have also been connected to wires, limited to creating movement in just one limb, or have focused on restoring movement to patients’ own muscles.”
Prof Tom Shakespeare, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the exoskeleton is a long way from being a usable clinical possibility.
“A danger of hype always exists in this field.
“Even if ever workable, cost constraints mean that hi-tech options are never going to be available to most people in the world with spinal cord injury,” he said.
For some, this piece of technology provides hope for a more mobile future.
Emerson Grant has been paralysed since he was a young toddler, after he had to undergo surgery on his spinal cord.
His mum Anna-Maria Dearsley says an affordable and accessible version of the exoskeleton would be life-changing.
“It would be amazing, if he had that and it was created by the time it was created for him and he was at secondary school or something,” she said.
“The mobility he could have and be with his peers. I think what he’s finding at the moment with his wheelchair,there’s things that are limited so we have to find other things for him to do.”