Electronic implant helps three paralysed men walk again

An electronic device used by doctors in Switzerland has given three paralysed men the chance to walk again.

They were told they would spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair, but an electronic device inserted around the men's spines boosted signals from their brain to their legs, also helping damaged nerves in the spinal cord to regrow.

The first patient to be treated was 30-year-old Swiss man David M'zee, according to the BBC.  He suffered a severe spinal injury seven years ago in a sporting accident.  His doctor told him he would never be able to walk again.

He tried all sorts of rehabilitation attempts but none of them worked.  That was when he agreed to take part in a trial led by Dr Grégoire Courtine at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL).

This time he had success and thanks to an electrical implant, he can walk almost a kilometre with the implant turned on.

"To me it means a lot. I'm surprised at what we have been able to do. I think you've got to try the impossible to make the possible possible. It's a lot of fun - it feels really good," he said.

To Dr Courtine's surprise, the spinal implant did more than enable David to walk.

"What was completely unexpected was the spinal cord repair that we observed.

"What we observed in animals is that it seems that the nerve fibres are regrowing and reconnecting the brain to the spinal cord,"Dr Courtine said.

David had his implant surgically inserted by one of Switzerland's leading neurosurgeons, Dr Jocelyne Bloch, from Lausanne University Hospital and she was amazed at David's improvement.

David can now walk up to eight paces when his implant is turned off and this is the first time that this has been recorded in a chronic spinal injury.

However when he's out of the lab and in the real world the signals from the implant can be uncomfortable, so the device can't be used all the time.

The system is far from a cure as it is expensive and not reliable enough to be used outside of the laboratory.

David is the first of three patients who have benefited from the first wave of the treatment.

Two other men to varying degrees have also managed to walk again.

Gertan Oskan from the Netherlands is a 35-year-old engineer, he was knocked over by a car seven years ago.

Doctors told him on his birthday that he would be paralysed for life, but thanks to this treatment he is beginning to regain some movement.

Sebastian Tobler, a 48-year-old man from Germany, was a keen cyclist before he was knocked off his bike.

Now he's back on a specially adapted bike that is powered mostly by his hands - but also partly by his legs.

They plan to begin larger trials in Europe and the US in three years time.