One of NCCR Robotics’ main goals since 2014 has been that of developing a computational infrastructure combining real-time monitoring of neural signals associated to walking and control algorithms, with the ultimate goal of restoring walking through epidural electrical spinal cord stimulation (EES). In rats and monkeys EES can replicate the healthy activation of neurons during locomotion. Currently, the tuning of EES parameters (frequency, amplitude, pulse width, onset, and duration) is done empirically, which is a very time-consuming process. Data-driven rapid, automatic and systematic approach to estimate the EES parameters would increase therapeutic outcomes while reducing variability and errors.
The labs of Grégoire Courtine and Silvestro Micera have collaborated in developing patient-specific stimulation algorithms to automatically tailor the EES parameters on each patient, and in creating wireless electrode implants that can be used to deliver precisely timed stimulation to the patient’s spinal cord. In a breakthrough 2018 study, published in Nature and Nature Neuroscience, Courtine and his collaborators were able to show that, after a few months of training with this technology, patients with spinal cord lesions were able to control previously paralyzed leg muscles.