Health

Artificial intelligence used in medical procedure to help paralyzed man walk

Pramote Polyamate/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- A man left paralyzed by a motorcycle crash over a decade ago is walking again after a surgical procedure aided by artificial intelligence.

Gert-Jan Oskam, 40, said he dreamt of walking again after being paralyzed from the waist down in the 2011 crash.

"I tried everything at home," Oskam told ABC News. "I tried standing up and making steps, but it wasn't enough."

It was not until last year that Oskam, working with researchers in Switzerland, experienced a breakthrough.

In 2022, researchers at Lausanne University Hospital surgically inserted electronic implants in the areas of Oskam's brain and spinal cord that control movement.

Then, with the help of AI, the researchers built what they call a "digital bridge" between his brain and spine, bypassing his injuries, and essentially putting his thought into action.

"Thanks to algorithms based on adaptive artificial intelligence methods, movement intentions are decoded in real time from brain recordings," one of the researchers, Guillaume Charvet, said in a statement, noting that the technology allows the patient to "move around independently."

Oskam said that now he can think about moving, and his body follows his thoughts.

"I think about moving my leg and then the stimulation gives me a pulse to make the step," Oskam said, noting that even when the sensors are turned off, he can still walk with the help of crutches.

Although this type of AI has been used in medicine for decades, researchers say Oskam's case is the first successful procedure of its kind.

Researchers describe the breakthrough as using AI as a thought-decoder that processes what the neurons in the brain region are trying to do, and sending that signal to the spine.

Details of the accomplishment were published Wednesday in the medical journal Nature.

The technology that enabled Oskam to walk is still in the preliminary stages, the researchers acknowledged. Oskam was the first human to undergo this procedure.

While the technology is not widely available to patients, the researchers said their mission is to "bring it to other people."

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