The movement that the technology bestowed was a big deal for Alford. “Just being able to stand up and look somebody face to face, in the eye, for a person who’s been in a wheelchair for five years, that’s what brings tears to your eye,” he says. Six years on, Contreras-Vidal’s lab at the Building Reliable Advances and Innovation in Neurotechnology Center, a collaboration between the University of Houston and Arizona State University, continues to train paralysed people to walk, albeit only under the supervision of researchers. His group is one of a number that are developing practical neural prostheses — devices capable of reading signals from the brain and then using them to restore movement in people who have been paralysed through injury or illness.
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