In a groundbreaking medical achievement, a paralysed man has regained the ability to walk through the power of his thoughts, thanks to electronic brain implants. Gert-Jan Oskam, a 40-year-old Dutch man who had been paralysed for 12 years due to a cycling accident, can now walk, stand, and climb stairs, all by simply thinking about it.

The experimental system involves electronic implants that wirelessly transmit Gert-Jan’s thoughts from his brain to his legs and feet through a second implant on his spine. Although the technology is still in the early stages of development, a leading UK spinal charity has hailed it as “very encouraging”.

Describing his experience, Gert-Jan expressed his joy, saying, “I feel like a toddler, learning to walk again.” He emphasised the pleasure of being able to stand up and share a beer with his friend, a simple pleasure that many take for granted.


The research, published in the journal Nature, was led by Swiss scientists. Professor Jocelyne Bloch, the neurosurgeon who performed the intricate surgery to insert the implants, explained that while the system is currently in the research phase, the ultimate goal is to make it available to paralysed patients.

Harvey Sihota, the CEO of UK charity Spinal Research, praised the development as a significant step forward for neurotechnology and its potential to restore function and independence to individuals with spinal cord injuries. He acknowledged that there is still progress to be made before the technology becomes widely accessible.

Gert-Jan underwent the operation in July 2021. During the procedure, Professor Bloch inserted two disc-shaped implants into Gert-Jan’s brain, above the regions responsible for movement. These implants wirelessly transmitted his brain signals to sensors attached to a helmet on his head. An algorithm developed by the Swiss team translated these signals into instructions to move his leg and foot muscles via a second implant on his spinal cord.

After a few weeks of training, Gert-Jan was able to walk with the assistance of a walker. Although his movements are slow, they are smooth, marking a significant breakthrough in the field. Professor Grégoire Courtine, who led the project, described the sight of Gert-Jan walking naturally as “so moving” and a paradigm shift in available treatments.

This technology builds upon previous work by Professor Courtine, where only a spinal implant was used to restore movement. Notably, other patients have also experienced successful treatment with spinal implants, allowing them to regain mobility. However, their movements were pre-programmed and somewhat robotic, requiring synchronisation with a computer.

Gert-Jan, who previously only had a spinal implant, now enjoys greater control over his movements. Instead of feeling controlled by the system, he feels in control himself. Although the systems cannot be used continuously and are still bulky and experimental, patients like Gert-Jan use them for short periods a few times a week as part of their recovery. Interestingly, the act of walking during these sessions has helped train their muscles and restore some movement even when the system is turned off, suggesting nerve regeneration.

The ultimate goal is to miniaturise the technology and make it suitable for everyday use. Professor Courtine’s company, Onward Medical, is actively working to improve and commercialise the technology. Looking to the future, Professor Courtine envisions applying the brain-spine interface shortly after an injury, highlighting the tremendous potential for recovery.

This remarkable achievement provides hope for individuals with spinal cord injuries and paves the way for advancements in neurotechnology that can significantly improve their quality of life.