Press release
Lausanne, 24 mai 2023

Brain Computer Interface (BCI) enables thought-controlled walking after spinal cord injury

Neuroscientists and neurosurgeons from EPFL/CHUV/UNIL and CEA/CHUGA/UGA report in the journal Nature that they have re-established the communication between the brain and spinal cord with a wireless digital bridge, allowing a paralyzed person to walk again naturally.

Thanks to a wireless interface between the brain and the spinal cord that transforms thought into action, the patient has regained natural control over the movement of his paralyzed legs, allowing him to stand, walk, and even climb stairs. © EPFL | Jimmy Ravier

“We have created a wireless interface between the brain and the spinal cord using brain-computer interface (BCI) technology that transforms thought into action.", summarizes Grégoire Courtine, Professor of Neuroscience at EPFL, CHUV and UNIL. Published in the journal Nature, "Walking naturally after spinal cord injury using a brain-spine interface" presents the situation of Gert-Jan, 40 years old, who suffered a spinal cord injury following a bicycle accident that left him paralyzed. The digital bridge enabled him to regain natural control over the movement of his paralyzed legs, allowing him to stand, walk, and even climb stairs. Gert-Jan explains that he has recovered the pleasure of being able to share a beer standing at a bar with friends : “This simple pleasure represents a significant change in my life”.

A digital bridge involving two electronic implants: on the brain, the other on the spinal cord
To establish this digital bridge, two types of electronic implants are needed. Neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch, who is a professor at CHUV, UNIL and EPFL, explains: "We have implanted WIMAGINE® devices above the region of the brain that is responsible for controlling leg movements. These devices developed by the CEA allows to decode the electrical signals generated by the brain when we think about walking. We also positioned a neurostimulator connected to an electrode array over the region of the spinal cord that controls leg movement.

Guillaume Charvet, head of the BCI program at CEA, adds: "Thanks to algorithms based on adaptive artificial intelligence methods, movement intentions are decoded in real time from brain recordings.” These intentions are then converted into sequences of electrical stimulation of the spinal cord, which in turn activate leg muscles to achieve the desired movement. This digital bridge operates wirelessly, allowing the patient to move around independently.

Recovery of neurological functions
Rehabilitation supported by the digital bridge enabled Gert-Jan to recover neurological functions that he had lost since his accident. Researchers were able to quantify remarkable improvements in his sensory perceptions and motor skills, even when the digital bridge was switched off. This digital repair of the spinal cord suggests that new nerve connections have developed.

At this stage, the digital bridge has only been tested in one person. Jocelyne Bloch and Grégoire Courtine explain that, in the future, a comparable strategy could be used to restore arm and hand functions. They add that the digital bridge could also be applied to other clinical indications, such as paralysis due to stroke. The company ONWARD Medical, along with CEA and EPFL has received support from the European Commission trough its European Innovation Council (EIC) to develop a commercial version of the digital bridge, with the goal of making the technology available worldwide.

Contacts and pictures
For medical information, please fill the form on .NeuroRestore
CHUV : medias(at)
EPFL : presse(at)
CEA : presse(at)
Press kit for journalists

About .NeuroRestore
.NeuroRestore is an R&D platform based in French-speaking Switzerland that develops neurosurgical approaches for restoring neurological function in people suffering from paraplegia, tetraplegia, Parkinson’s disease or the consequences of stroke. The center is led by Grégoire Courtine, a neuroscientist at Ecole polytechnique fédéral de Lausanne (EPFL), and Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon at Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) and University of Lausanne (UNIL). .NeuroRestore, founded in 2018, brings together engineers, doctors and scientists from EPFL, CHUV and UNIL, with the support of the Defitech Foundation. It draws on this pooled expertise to develop neurotherapies that can help patients recover motor function. Its innovative and personalized treatments are tested through research protocols and then made available to hospitals and patients. .NeuroRestore is also committed to training the next generation of health-care professionals and engineers on the use of these novel therapeutic approaches.

About Clinatec
Clinatec Edmond J. Safra biomedical research center combines medical research and technological innovation programs in the same place to provide new solutions to patients. Clinatec’s activities are supported by a partnership between CEA, University Grenoble Alpes Hospital (CHUGA), University Grenoble Alpes (UGA) and Fonds de Dotation Clinatec. Clinatec’s mission is to design, develop and perform clinical validation of innovative medical devices based on medical needs and using cutting-edge technologies. These missions are fulfilled by a multidisciplinary team composed of mathematicians, physicists, electronic engineers, computer scientists, biologists, physicians and healthcare personnel.

About Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV)

CHUV is one of Switzerland’s five university hospitals, alongside Geneva, Bern, Basel and Zurich. It is tasked with three basic missions by the public authorities, namely care, teaching and research.

In 2022, CHUV’s 12,436 employees cared for 53,422 inpatients. It dealt with 79,414 emergencies, provided 3,900 daily outpatient consultations and welcomed 3,185 new babies into the world. Its annual budget is 1.9 billion Swiss francs.

CHUV works closely with the Faculty of Biology and Medicine of the University of Lausanne to provide undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education for doctors. It also works with other higher education institutions in the Lake Geneva area (including EPFL, ISREC, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the University of Geneva), with the University Hospitals of Geneva and other hospitals, health care providers and institutions, such as the Federation of Vaud Hospitals and the Vaud Society of Medicine.

Since 2019, CHUV has been ranked as one of the best hospitals in the world according to Newsweek magazine.