LOS ANGELES, CA - For most people, virtual reality summons thoughts of fun and games, but scientists are now using the technology to help paraplegic patients come closer than ever to taking real steps again, according to a study published this month in the journal Scientific Reports.
The Walk Again Project is a new trial using VR training with eight patients and has resulted in some renewed motor control in every single case.
Lead researcher Dr. Miguel Nicolelis from Duke University explained in a call with media that the patients in the study began with zero sensation or motor control.
He explained, "When we look at the brains of these patients when they got to us, we couldn't detect any signal when we asked them to imagine walking again. It was almost like the brain had erased the concept of moving by walking."
The patients used a commercially available VR headset, Oculus Rift, to enter a virtual world controlled by their brain activity for an hour each day.
Although none of the patients are up and walking on their own without assistance, one woman is now able to walk with a walker after 13 years of paralysis.
Her success gives researchers hope that continued experimental therapies may help her and others like her to regain mobility and independence.
So it looks like virtual reality may be the first step towards make walking a reality for these patients once again.