Implant helps paralysed man use his arms again

27 Sep 2023

Image: © Mediaphotos/

First it helped a paralysed man walk and now, it has restored arm function in another patient. BCI technology is showing promising results.

Neurosurgeons in Switzerland have been able to restore upper limb function in a patient with a spinal cord injury using a brain-computer interface (BCI).

The medtech company that is commercialising the technology, Onward Medical, claimed today (27 September) that it is the first time a BCI and spinal cord simulator implant has been used to successfully help a paralysed person move their upper limbs.

Using a product called the ARC-IM Simulator, neurosurgeons were able to restore upper extremity function in a man suffering from a spinal cord injury. He also received a wireless BCI designed by Clinatec to initiate thought-driven movement when paired with ARC-IM.

Dr Jocelyne Bloch of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois in Lausanne, Switzerland, who performed the procedures last month, said that the surgery involving Onward Medical and Clinatec technology went smoothly.

“We are now working with the patient to use this cutting-edge innovation to recover movement of his arms, hands and fingers. We look forward to sharing more information in due course.”

Earlier this year, researchers in Switzerland used the same technology to create a ‘digital bridge’ between the brain and spinal cord enabling a person with paralysis to stand and walk naturally.

In a study published in Nature, the team of neuroscientists described how a 40-year-old man who suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralysed following a bicycle accident was able to walk again using BCI technology.

“We have created a wireless interface between the brain and the spinal cord using BCI technology that transforms thought into action,”, said co-author Prof Grégoire Courtine of the University Hospital of Lausanne at the time.

“These devices allow to decode the electrical signals generated by the brain when we think about walking. We also positioned a neurostimulator connected to an electrode array over the region of the spinal cord that controls leg movement,” Bloch, who co-led the study, explained.

This latest breakthrough announced today is part of an ongoing clinical study investigating the safety and effectiveness of thought-initiated spinal cord stimulation after spinal cord injury.

The study is supported by a grant from the European Innovation Council and coordinated by NeuroRestore co-directors Bloch and Courtine, as well as Guillaume Charvet, head of the Medical Device Development Lab at CEA-Clinatec.

Cathal Harte, an Irish software engineer who joined NeuroRestore in 2020, told last year that he was excited about the centre’s brain-spine interface study that developed the digital bridge.

“There’s an implanted brain decoder, what you do is you remove parts of the skull, and you replace it with a sensor,” he explained.

“Then you train pattern recognition algorithms to say, OK, think about moving your left leg, think about moving your toe, think about various things and it learns those brain states.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic