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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Paraplegic Marc Merger knows his dream of strolling through the countryside on a sunny day will remain just that -- a dream.
But thanks to a computer chip implanted near his spine and wired into his leg muscles, the Frenchman is hoping for a more modest miracle.
"I know I will not walk through the fields again. I just want to be able to walk upright from room to room. That would be an incredible thing. For you, that's something normal. For people like me, it's enormous,'' he told reporters at a news conference Monday unveiling the medical breakthrough that allowed him last week to take his first steps in 10 years.
Merger, 39, was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident just after Christmas 1990. He became the first test patient for the ``stand up and walk'' project, a collaboration between seven European companies and academic institutions.
Spinal Cord Severed In Car Accident
His spinal cord was severed, preventing signals from his brain reaching his legs. The matchbox-sized implant is designed to recreate those signals and stimulate the leg muscles one by one in the right sequence to let him walk, supported by a frame.
Merger, who is married with two children, must wear a transmitter strapped to his chest and wired to a laptop computer, which a technician uses to direct his legs by remote control. He took his first steps in this way on March 17, but was unable to do so again Monday due to a technical glitch.
He said he hoped a device would soon be designed small enough for him to carry and control his own legs.
Paraplegic patients have been fitted in the past with electrodes on the skin which stimulate the muscles externally to get a similar result. But this is the first time a chip has delivered microelectronic signals directly into the nerves, raising further hopes for some of Europe's 300,000 paraplegics. Project coordinator Pierre Rabischong said more funding was needed to enable him to test new patients to see if they were suitable for such implants. But he warned that only a fraction would be suitable.
"They need muscles to be able to stand, so the (injury) must not have damaged the brain's motor center to the lower limbs, meaning the muscles waste away. But our goal is to allow people in all the countries of Europe to go into a center near their home to have tests to see if they can enter the program.''
He cautioned against overinflated expectations.
"It won't work for everyone ... You can't just plug in a chip and be able to walk. You need a lot of motivation, like Luc, and a lot of training.''
Two young Italian men are next in line for the treatment. They are building up their leg muscles by electronic stimulation and learning to walk with external electrodes before having a device implanted.
The implant alone costs 200,000 French francs ($29,580), plus costs of training and rehabilitation. Rabischong said he hoped sponsorship and grants would contribute enough for a Europe-wide network.
"We need more money but the money is not the real problem. The money can be found,'' Rabischong said.
"This can lead to concrete results, specific benefits to human beings in the real world ... We want eventually to allow people to walk with some elegance and to improve their quality of life.''
Above Story From: http://www.mmjp.or.jp/amlang.atc/worldnow/00/mar/21.htm
Below Image from: http://abcnews.go.com/sections/living/DailyNews/paraplegic000320.html French Paraplegic Walks Microchip Implant Apparently Restored Nerve FunctionREUTERS- S T R A S B O U R G, France, March 20 — A paralyzed Frenchman took his first steps in 10 years after a revolutionary operation to restore nerve functions using a microchip implant, newspapers reported on Sunday.
Below Story From 08:15 AM Mar. 20, 2000 PTSTRASBOURG, France -- A paralyzed Frenchman took his first steps in 10 years after a revolutionary operation to restore nerve functions using a microchip implant, newspapers reported on Sunday.
Marc Merger, 39, who was paralyzed in a car accident, received the implant in February during a ground-breaking operation that doctors said gave new hope to thousands of paraplegics.
"An extraordinary emotion. Suddenly, we were not teaching a paraplegic to cope with a wheelchair, but to walk," Merger was quoted as saying in French regional daily L'Alsace.
"At the beginning, a week ago, I could stay standing for about two and a half minutes. Several sessions later, I was at six minutes and a half. I'm telling you, it's magic," Merger said.
Merger, a former bank manager who now works as a consultant at a university, received an initial implant in September, but had to go back into surgery when the chip developed a bug, L'Alsace said.
"At the beginning I felt enormous relief, because the operation had been OK. And I was enchanted by the magic of standing up. It's fantastic!" he said after taking his first faltering steps on Friday.
Merger said the treatment had been tough but he was determined to continue with the support of his wife and two children at his home in the northern city of Strasbourg.
"I will try, perhaps in six months, to stand up and walk around my house with a walking frame," he said.
Merger walks by pressing buttons on a walking frame which acts as a remote control for the chip, sending impulses through fine wires to stimulate his leg muscles, newspapers said.
Doctors who carried out the operation in the southeastern city of Montpellier said they had not repaired Merger's injury and the system would only work for paraplegics whose muscles had remained alive despite damage to their nerves.
"For the moment he is like a child learning to walk, but he should still make great progress within the next six months," said Pierre Rabischong, the head of the European Union-sponsored Stand Up And Walk research project which conducted the operation.
L'Alsace said two British, two Danish, and two Italian doctors were among the team that carried out the operation.