The study titled “Long-Term Training with a Brain-Machine Interface-Based Gait ProtocolInduces Partial Neurological Recovery in Paraplegic Patients” was conducted by an international group of scientists, led by the Duke University neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis and demonstrates that it’s never too late to start intensive therapy.

Eight patients with chronic paraplegia, who have been completely paralyzed for 3 to 13 years, participated in a 12-month training program which they called the Walk Again Neurorehabilitation (WA-NR) protocol. Participants first learned to control a 3D avatar on ascreen by imagining moving their arms or legs. In further stages, they learned how to control a robotic gait trainer in the same way. The final stage consisted of gait training with a brain controlled robotic exoskeleton. In addition, patients also trained many hours with a traditional robotic gait trainer throughout the study period.

Finally giving proof to a well-known fact in leading rehabilitation centers

The results now give strong scientific evidence to the experience and long standing argumentation of leading rehabilitation centers that the correct, intensive mixture of roboticand traditional movement therapy will lead to significant improvements in the recovery ofpatients. All patients in this study, who previously did not exhibit any sensory or motorfunction below the level of injury, started to show signs of motor recovery after seven months;and by the end of the treatment, this recovery stabilized. Patients’ walking independence improved significantly, and they exhibited improvements in gastrointestinal function and skin condition as well.

Studies like this give hope to patients with neurological conditions and prove that medical technology companies that develop solutions to foster neuroplasticity are on the right track. Brain Machine Interfaces combined with other therapies will improve current therapy standards.

It’s not a miracle

“We are really pleased that more and more studies like this are conducted and published,” states Dr. Gery Colombo, CEO of Hocoma, the leading player in robotic and sensor-based movement therapy. “After the American heart/stroke association (AHA/ASA) already officially recommended the positive effects of robotic therapy for patients with stroke earlier this year, this study confirms reports and feedback we receive on a daily basis from our clinical partners. While media often speaks about ‘a miracle in recovery,’ we know that these are not miracles. The better the patient’s outcome, the better is the mix of intensive therapy with advanced technologies. All of them are based on principles of physiology and motor learning.”

One example from Germany is Samuel Koch who severely injured his spinal cord on live television in 2010. The tetraplegic was told that in his case, robotic gait training with the Lokomat would not help him. Starting a few months ago, Koch has had access to regular Lokomat training and already reported to the newspaper Darmstädter Echo: “Since I started training on the Lokomat, my body awareness has significantly improved. While walking in the Lokomat, I feel the pressure of my entire sole walking on the treadmill and surprisingly even my left shinbone.”

Hocoma works internationally with leading rehabilitation centers to integrate intensive therapy models into the daily routines of clinics and hospitals worldwide. “When you buy a Hocoma solution, you buy more than a product,” Colombo continues. “We have dedicated service and education teams who help integrate advanced technologies into your clinical setting. This is crucial for success of the therapy.”