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Heroes

He's been paralyzed for 5 years, but he just walked. The video is spectacular.

The word you're looking is "wow."

The man in the video you're about to see has been paralyzed for five years. Yet he's about to walk.

How? Because of some cool science stuff that we'll explain in a second.


But first, just watch. It's incredible.

OK, so that was awesome, but what the heck is going on here?

I've got 19 words for you: "The feasibility of a brain-computer interface functional electrical stimulation system for the restoration of overground walking after paraplegia."

Er, actually, that's just the title of the researchers' published findings, which you can read online in the Journal of Neuroengineering and Rehabilitation.

Let me say it a different way:

Scientists created a way for the man's brain signals to bypass his damaged spinal cord and communicate directly with his legs.

An Do, one of the study's lead researchers from University of California Irvine, wanted to find out what would happen he combined two already pretty amazing technologies: brain-controlled interfaces (BCIs), which send the signals, and a functional electrical stimulation (FES) system, which uses the signals to tell the muscles to move.

FES systems, like Parastep (the one used in this study) aren't new when it comes to helping paralyzed folks regain movement in their muscles. But typically they have to be operated manually, with the wearer applying stimulation to his or her muscles via a keypad and control switches.

Having the system controlled by brain signals via special sensors on the skin is a novel approach and clearly yields some extraordinary results. In fact, the man in the study completed 30 tests just like this one over 19 weeks, without a single negative side effect.

That doesn't mean this technology is a magic pill. At least, not yet.

The man practices walking using the device in virtual reality. Image via Christine King, et al./Journal of Neuroengineering and Rehabilitation.

If you watch carefully, you'll see there are a number of supports and fail-safes in place to keep the man from falling. Even after all that practice, his steps are slow and labored.

And what you don't see on tape is that the man underwent numerous training sessions to both learn how to operate the device and to strengthen his leg muscles, which haven't been utilized in years. He even practiced walking using the device in virtual reality and while suspended above ground.

Whoa.

In other words, this study is merely proof of concept and still needs quite a bit of perfecting. But the goal, the researchers say, is to one day integrate this entire system into a patient's body so it can be used all the time, without the need for complicated set ups like the one in this video.

It's science and technology, coming together in the absolute best way possible. But to this man, and others like him, it must feel an awful lot like a miracle.

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