Paralyzed California man recounts re-learning to walk via computer

Thu Sep 24, 2015 3:21pm EDT
 
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - For paraplegic Adam Fritz, the thrill of the computer-assisted first steps he took five years after being paralyzed in a motorcycle crash came only after he was unhooked from the system that enabled him to walk briefly in a bioengineering lab.

During the experiment itself, Fritz recounted, he had to keep his mind focused entirely on placing one foot in front of the other as his brain waves were translated by a computer algorithm into impulses that bypassed his severed spinal cord and activated his legs.

"If you break your concentration, it wouldn't work anymore," he told Reuters shortly after scientists from the University of California, Irvine, reported the feat in the British open-access Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.

"Once I finished, I had that 'Oh my God, this thing worked,' kind of a moment," the 28-year-old religious studies graduate said. "It was very exhilarating."

The "proof-of-concept" study published late Wednesday documented how brain-to-computer technology, which converts thoughts to body motion, enabled Fritz to become the first person paralyzed from the waist down by spinal cord injury to walk without the use of robotics.

As captured in a YouTube video of that pioneering moment last October, it was hardly a casual stroll. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBAeR-Z0EHg)

Fritz is seen slowly shuffling with painstaking effort across the floor of UC Irvine's iMove Lab. His weight was partially supported by an overhead suspension harness and a walker he grasped to keep his body upright.

But researchers said he propelled himself entirely by his own leg muscles, controlled by his own brain, over a distance of 12 feet (3.66 meters).   Continued...

 
Former graduate student Adam Fritz, 28, who severed his spinal cord in a motorcycle accident, is shown during a brain-computer interface experiment at UC Irvine's iMove Lab in Irvine, California, in this image released on September 23, 2015. REUTERS/University of California Irvine/Handout via Reuters