An anonymous reader quotes a report from Nature: For more than a decade, neuroscientist Gregoire Courtine has been flying every few months from his lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne to another lab in Beijing, China, where he conducts research on monkeys with the aim of treating spinal-cord injuries. The commute is exhausting -- on occasion he has even flown to Beijing, done experiments, and returned the same night. But it is worth it, says Courtine, because working with monkeys in China is less burdened by regulation than it is in Europe and the United States. And this week, he and his team report the results of experiments in Beijing, in which a wireless brain implant -- that stimulates electrodes in the leg by recreating signals recorded from the brain -- has enabled monkeys with spinal-cord injuries to walk. The treatment is a potential boon for immobile patients: Courtine has already started a trial in Switzerland, using a pared-down version of the technology in two people with spinal-cord injury. The team first mapped how electric signals are sent from the brain to leg muscles in healthy monkeys, walking on a treadmill. They also examined the lower spine, where electric signals from the brain arrive before being transmitted to muscles in the legs. Then they recreated those signals in monkeys with severed spinal cords, focusing on particular key points in the lower part of the spine. Microelectrode arrays implanted in the brain of the paralyzed monkeys picked up and decoded the signals that had earlier been associated with leg movement. Those signals were sent wirelessly to devices that generate electric pulses in the lower spine, which triggered muscles in the monkeys' legs into motion.
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