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Bionic Skeleton for Paraplegic Handicaps Test Is Likely To Begin in June

05/22/2013 - 08h35



The ambitious project of a group of scientists led by Miguel Nicolelis, 52, of São Paulo, which intends to make a paraplegic kick off the first match of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil using a thought-controlled bionic skeleton, is likely to begin the phase of tests in humans next month.
The announcement was made by Nicolelis during a lecture on Tuesday, May 21, in the auditorium of Finep (Financial Backer of Studies and Projects), a public Brazilian agency that is financing the R$ 33-million project, called Andar de Novo (Walk Again).

"Many people think it's impossible, but the first simulations with the exoskeleton were made and I´m pleased to say it has worked as planned. The test schedule began six months ago. We will start the tests on humans at the end of June," says Nicolelis, the head of the International Institute of Neurosciences of Natal (IINN) and also a Professor at Duke University.

He says there has been simulation on monkeys using a prototype. "We have accomplished marching patterns on a monkey using simulators and, in some months, we expect this monkey to walk with the exoskeleton at Duke and in our lab here in Natal."

Daniel Marenco/Folhapress
The neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis,during a conference in the Finep auditorium, in Rio
The neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis,during a conference in the Finep auditorium, in Rio

For the tests on humans, the volunteers will be selected by the Association for Assistance to Disabled Children (AACD) in São Paulo, says Neiva Paraschiva, the association's executive director and head of the IINN; Paraschiva also said the first tests on humans "will not be invasive," that is, there will not be any connection of electrodes to the patients' brains to send commands that will control the exoskeleton.

The partnership between AACD and Nicolelis's group, financed by Finep, will expand the association's lab in São Paulo, creating "the most advanced neurobotics rehabilitation lab on the planet," says Nicolelis. "That's how big my dream is. I'm not talking about Harvard, Duke or Yale, I'm talking about the AACD in collaboration with the Natal neuroscience institute and other one hundred scientists from around the world, to accomplish that."

Nicolelis also said that the first complete locomotion simulator in the world will be tested at the AACD "in the coming weeks." "Patients will look at avatars of themselves walking and will train their brains, using visual information, to generate the signals we have to get to control the exoskeleton in the future."

He became visibly moved as he cited the goal to show the project at the World Cup opening. "Our idea is to inaugurate a new era in neuroscience for the world: neuroengineering. If everything works as planned, and of course there are several challenges before we get to the opening ceremony, a Brazilian man or woman, a young adult of up to 170 centimeters and weighing up to 70 kilos, will be able to stand up, take 25 steps from the side line to the center of the field and begin the World Cup with a Brazilian science kick for all humankind," said Nicolelis, sobbing.

"That is the idea: to show the world that, in Brazil, the best soccer and the best music in the world are played, but we also produce science capable of impressing the whole world, paid for by Brazilian tax payers.

Translated by THOMAS MUELLO

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