People with paraplegia due to spinal cord injury may eventually get a chance to suit up, walk out the door and feel the ground beneath their feet, thanks to a five-year, $8 million Cyber-Physical Systems Frontier grant from the National Science Foundation.
Awarded to three Southern California institutions — the Keck School of Medicine of USC, University of California, Irvine (UCI) and Caltech — the grant will fund the development of a fully implantable brain-machine interface device that aims to restore the ability to walk and restore lower extremity sensation. The brain-machine device will transmit commands to a robotic exoskeleton for walking that will, in turn, transmit sensory information back to the brain.
“The restoration of walking is a very significant goal for patients after spinal cord injury,” says Dr. Charles Liu, principal investigator at the Keck School and professor of clinical neurological surgery and neurology and director of the USC Neurorestoration Center. “New solutions are possible with the recent advances in neuroprosthetics and regenerative medicine. We’re at the point where we can create solutions similar in concept to Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, which is neurally integrated with him. Tony Stark’s brain interacts with the suit, and the suit interacts with his brain. Everything the suit feels, his brain feels. That’s the idea.”