Paralysed man walks again thanks to ‘digital bridge’ that wirelessly reconnects brain and spinal cord
A paralysed man has been able to walk again after communication was re-established between his brain and spinal cord using a wireless “digital bridge”.
The so-called brain computer interface is made up of two electronic implants, one each in the brain and spinal cord.
The former is placed above the region of the brain responsible for controlling leg movements, and can decode the electrical signals generated when we think about walking.
Similarly, the other implant is positioned over the part of the spinal cord that controls the legs.
Working together, scientists say the groundbreaking technology “transforms thought into action” – repairing the broken connection between the brain and the region of the spinal cord that controls movement.
The first patient was a 40-year-old man, Gert-Jan, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a bike accident in 2011.
It had left him paralysed, but he noticed improvements within days of surgeons calibrating the implants.
Rediscovering simple pleasures
“The most surprising thing I think happened after two days,” Gert-Jan said.
“Within five to minutes, I could control my hips.”
Since then, after “a long journey” of training, the patient has been able to walk, climb stairs and navigate ramps.
He has also rediscovered the “simple pleasure” of standing with friends at a bar.
The implants remained effective after a year, including when Gert-Jan was unsupervised at home.
He was treated by neuroscientists and neurosurgeons from Switzerland’s Lausanne University Hospital and the University of Lausanne, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne.
The implants themselves were developed by the French Atomic Energy Commission.
How does the technology work?
Guillaume Charvet, head of the project at the commission, said the implants use “adaptive artificial intelligence” to decode movement intentions from the brain in real time.
Once AI identifies the relevant signals, they are converted into sequences of electrical stimulation for the spinal cord, which activate the leg muscles and prompt the desired movement.
Remarkably, the patient experienced improvements in his sensory perceptions and motor skills that were maintained even when the digital bridge was switched off – allowing him to walk with crutches.
Professor Gregoire Courtine said this suggests the digital bridge not only repaired the man’s spinal cord, but also “promotes the growth of new nerve connections”.
AI THE KEY TO ASTONISHING BREAKTHROUGH
It’s artificial intelligence that is key here.
More than a decade ago, I spent some time in a lab with US researchers that were trying to decode brain signals from a monkey feeding itself with a robotic arm that it controlled with the power of thought.
Hundreds of signals jumped across a computer screen – and it was clear that the challenge would be detecting patterns in the data to gauge the intent.
The Swiss researchers have cracked that by carefully training the computer to pick out the signals that matter while Gert-Jan thinks about a very specific muscle movement.
The technology has clearly been transformational for one man. But now it needs to be rolled out to many more people paralysed by accidents and, the researchers hope, strokes.
It won’t be cheap, so access will be an issue. Will it just be the rich, or those with insurance payouts, who benefit?
But that’s for the future. Take nothing away from the breakthrough itself. It is astonishing. And the implications for people living with paralysis are huge.
Read Thomas Moore’s full analysis here.
Gert-Jan is the only patient who the digital bridge has been tested on, but it is hoped the technology could be used to restore arm and hand functions in future.
It could also be applied following other causes of paralysis, such as a stroke.
The findings have been detailed in the journal Nature.
Left-wing Labour MP hits out after losing selection battle – as party leadership accused of ‘purging socialists’
A left-leaning Labour MP claimed she faced “unacceptable obstacles” after losing a selection battle for a new seat in Wales.
Beth Winter said she would be “taking advice and soundings” on her next steps after Gerald Jones, a Labour frontbencher, was announced as the candidate for Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon.
Proposed boundary changes in Wales mean the two MPs’ constituencies would effectively be merged into one – setting up the two-way contest between them.
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The controversy comes amid a row over the decision to block left-wing Labour mayor Jamie Driscoll from running for another role in the North East.
Momentum, the grassroots left-wing organisation that supports Labour, accused the party’s leadership of “taking a sledgehammer to the democratic rights of local Labour members in order to purge socialists and instal [Keir Starmer] loyalists”.
Mr Driscoll said he had not ruled out taking legal action against the party, with Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and his counterpart in the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, claiming the move did not seem “democratic, transparent and fair”.
In a statement, Ms Winter said she was “disappointed by this very close result and the unjust manner in which it came about, which leaves major questions outstanding”.
She said: “In this contest, I sought reselection as Labour’s candidate on a platform of solidarity with striking rail workers, nurses and teaching staff, all of who I have been proud to stand with on the picket line.
“I have campaigned for properly funded public services paid for by taxing the rich, an extension of workers’ rights including a £15 per hour living wage, the renationalisation of our public services and a ‘green new deal’ to deliver a jobs-led economic recovery.
“However, unacceptable obstacles were placed in the way of this grassroots campaign, undermining the democratic process.”
Describing the “obstacles” she faced, Ms Winter claimed the “online only process” was “bulldozed through” in a matter of weeks without any face-to-face hustings.
She added: “This was not a fair contest, and I will be taking advice and soundings in the days ahead about my next steps.”
Ms Winter has been MP for Cynon Valley since 2019 and is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group parliamentary caucus.
She had previously expressed concern that too much of the contest was online.
Commenting on the case, veteran left-wing MP John McDonell said there were questions to be answered and called the result a “huge setback for our movement”.
He tweeted: “Beth Winter is a principled, incredibly hard working, socialist MP, so this is a huge setback for our movement. In this dignified statement, she shows her commitment to her constituents & the cause of Labour. Questions need to be asked about forcing thru of a solely online process.”
Mr Jones has represented Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney since 2015 and serves as shadow Wales minister.
He thanked Ms Winter for a “comradely campaign” and said he was “incredibly grateful that Labour members have chosen me to be the candidate for Merthyr Tydfil & Upper Cynon”.
“Britain is crying out for a UK Labour Government and I’ll work flat out to make Keir Starmer our next prime minister,” he said.
Putin’s dam attack is a dangerous escalation that takes the war in an even more perilous direction
The breach of the Nova Kakhovka dam is most worrying for what it says about the mind of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals – and their capacity for dangerous escalation.
It takes the war in an even more perilous direction.
The military impact is likely to be temporary. Armies blow dams or use them to unleash floodwaters for tactical advantage.
The Soviets and the Germans both did it in the Second World War.
But the gains generally do not hold. Water drains away, the ground dries out.
Warning of ‘grave consequences’ after dam blast – live updates
Ben Barry, a land war senior fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, said: “It could set back any assault river crossing for a couple of weeks.
“Difficult to tell for how long. But only once the water subsides and the ground dries out will Ukraine have the same chance of a river crossing as it did before the flood.”
And he believes an attack across the swollen Dnipro is not out of the question even now.
“It’s not impossible to do an assault river crossing across a river that’s in full flood. It’s just more difficult,” he said.
The Russians have blamed the Ukrainians for the attack, but most analysts have dismissed that as unlikely to impossible.
The Russians have a proven track record for accusing the other side of doing what they have themselves done. And the Russians have most to gain. Up to a point.
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The breach benefits the Russians by reducing the length of the frontline it has to defend and allowing it to focus attention in the east, but not indefinitely.
And it has blowback for the Russians too, flooding some of the defensive positions they have dug in on the southern bank since retreating there last August.
So temporary gain, some self-harm and all the opprobrium that comes with carrying out yet another war crime.
Where is the margin in that for Vladimir Putin? It looks rash and premature. A disproportionate and irrational act.
But that may be the point.
Russian president ‘excels in scare tactics’
In war, it can pay to do the crazy thing, to look unhinged and keep your enemy guessing at your next act of madness.
Putin excels in scare tactics and knows the dam blast makes him look more dangerous.
If Russia was irresponsible enough to blow the dam and unleash such destruction for limited advantage, what will it do next, planners in Kyiv and the West will be asking.
The fear now is for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The dam breach endangers the supply of water to its cooling systems. Could Russia now sabotage the plant to change the course of the war?
The destruction of the dam undoubtedly changes the risk calculus in handling Russia, but correctly calibrating it will need cool heads so it is not overdone.
Putin has, after all, indulged in nuclear sabre-rattling for much of this war.
It has weighed on the minds of Ukraine’s allies and made them more timid in arming Kyiv.
But so far analysts say his nuclear bluster is just that.
The nuclear option
There is no sign of Putin starting the lengthy process of bringing tactical warheads out of storage and deploying them.
And any disaster at Zaporizhzhia threatens Russia most.
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The prevailing winds would be most likely to carry the fallout east across the Russian border.
The Russians have shown stunning disregard for the welfare of their own soldiers but a radioactive cloud over their defensive positions and logistics lines would be challenging to say the least.
What we can say for sure is this war has swung again in a more unpredictable direction and the longer it goes on, the more such lurches are likely to happen.
Elderly Ukrainians weep after escaping floodwaters and Russian fire
There was a steady stream of boat landings throughout the day in Kherson city in southern Ukraine as the rescue efforts were ramped up to reach those stranded by floodwaters.
The water levels rose about 11 feet in about 24 hours according to emergency services, with some areas reaching a depth of 17 feet.
It meant those who had stayed in their homes overnight awoke to find themselves stranded the day after the destruction of the enormous Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine.
The Ukrainian president said the priority was evacuating those trapped in their homes and providing fresh drinking water to an area where they predict there are going to be serious supply challenges in the very near future.
We watched as a flotilla of rescue boats serviced by police, troops and eager volunteers searched the newly flooded streets of Kherson.
Amphibious vehicles like the Ukrainian-made Sherp were brought in with its huge, specialised inflatable wheels to try to help in the rescue attempts.
It turned out to be of less use than small rubber dinghies which have been forced to manoeuvre their way through broken electrical lines, submerged trees and trailing branches to try to reach trapped residents.
“Turn around, it’ll be easier,” volunteer Mykola urged one of the pensioners he was rescuing from the third floor of an apartment block.
Putin reacts to dam collapse – follow Ukraine war live updates
The two floors downstairs are now utterly submerged. “I can’t go inside my home at all,” one resident shouted to our boat, “The water is way over our heads in there now”.
Mykola tells us there are still a lot of people stranded after believing the waters wouldn’t rise so high.
The predictions are the levels are likely to go up a few inches more before they hope they will start to recede – but it could take a week for them to go down entirely.
Until then it is going to be difficult to assess the long-term impact of this catastrophic dam burst – which the Russian authorities are continuing to deny responsibility for.
But Vladimir Putin’s enemies are in no mood to listen to his protestations with the United Nations, America and European countries all lining up to blame him.
The US admitted it did not have any firm evidence but Western officials seem to be basing their assumptions on the fact the dam has been largely under the control of Russian forces since the beginning of the war.
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Before-and-after images of devastation after dam destroyed
Putin loyalists, however, are still blaming the Ukrainians as the Russian leader announced he too would be launching a criminal investigation to discover exactly what happened.
There are several witnesses saying that the Russians have been continuing to attack those trying to flee the territory they control on the other side of the flooded Dnipro River.
Two boats carrying old people and family members landed in Kherson saying they’d fled Russian troops from the east bank. They went on to say the Russians had also looted their summer homes and been bombing the beaches.
Olga wept with relief as she told us: “The current was so powerful, we barely made it.”
She was hugged and consoled by her friends as they all sat round the few bags of possessions they’d managed to take with them.
“When we were in Dachi, all our boats had been sunk and the Russians were looting our summer houses and taking our boat engines. They were taking everything. Our guys just managed to save our two boats.”
She’s overwhelmed with emotion as reaching dry land. But the challenges in this area are likely to mount in the coming days and weeks when the full scale of the disaster is finally known.
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