France - Montpellier Univ researchers help man to walk, then computer/implant chip fail : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Published Monday, March 20, 2000

Researchers: Chip Helps Man Walk

By CONSTANT BRAND / Associated Press Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Ten years after a car crash paralyzed him from the waist down, an implanted computer chip is helping Marc Merger regain the ability to walk.

The 39-year-old financial consultant from France is the first patient to undergo the implant procedure, which was developed by a consortium of European researchers to help people who have lost the use of their legs.

Last December, surgeons implanted 15 electrodes on nerves and muscles in Merger' s legs, connecting them with wires to a computer chip embedded in his abdomen. The procedure had to be repeated in February after problems arose.

Merger was able to stand up by himself in early March, and he took his first steps last Friday.

" There are a whole lot of people like me who need this, " Merger said during a news conference at European Union headquarters Monday. " It' s hard to imagine not being able to walk."

Professor Pierre Rabischong of Montpellier University in France, a project coordinator, said the implanted chip allows Merger to create artificial muscle movement.

" We are trying to reproduce what happens in the brain ... with electrodes to nerves and muscles, " said Rabischong. " We are not working miracles here, but allowing patients to stand up using their own muscles."

Eventually, scientists hope patients will be able to control their movements by pressing buttons on a walking cane now under development that will act as a remote control. For now, scientists transmit instructions to the chip via computer. The signals are transmitted to the electrodes in the legs and converted into muscle movement.

" We are by no means at the end of the road. A lot of work is still required, " Rabischong said.

Merger was living proof of that Monday. A demonstration of him walking at EU headquarters had to be postponed because a computer glitch failed to communicate commands to the computer chip, meaning he could not walk.

Gabrielle Tronconi, 23, is one of six people due to receive implants later this year.

" I hope I will be able to reduce my disability and to be able to do more things than I can do right now, " the 23-year-old Italian said. " I hope to walk because of the research developments, " he said.

Rabischong said that there are more than 300, 000 people in Europe with paralysis of the lower limbs. Their average age is 31, he said.

The European Union and six governments -- France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Italy, and Britain -- have been working on developing the technology since 1996.

Previous electronic systems have allowed paralyzed people to stand and walk with a walker, sometimes for more than a mile, said Naomi Kleitman, director of education at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Those systems use electrodes taped on the skin.

Systems that implant computer-controlled electrodes have tested in the lab for many years as well, she said. They may allow more sophisticated control over leg nerves and muscles, although there has been some problems with long-term maintenance of the implanted electrodes, she said.

Kleitman said she couldn' t comment directly on the European system without knowing more details.

Copyright 2000 Associated Press.

Source: Star-Tribune, Minneapolis, Minnesota

-- Lee Maloney (, March 20, 2000

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