Duke University in Northern Carolina published the results of its 12-month investigation. During the experiment eight patients whose lower limbs were paralyzed because of chronic spinal cord injury, regained the sensitivity of their legs. This was possible due to virtual reality, exoskeletons feedback and EEG-sensors.
The experiment is described below. A patient put on his head a virtual reality helmet and an electroencephalographic net. EEG-sensors gathered the information about the intensity of the work of different brain parts responsible for movement. Then the information was converted into digital data and transmitted to a virtual avatar of the patient. Thus, using its own brain, the patient walked on his virtual legs in virtual reality. In reality, the exoskeleton stimulated lower limbs, creating a feeling of real physical walk.
The result proved to be astonishing. Neurologic connections of lower limbs were reestablishing. As a result of 2052 similar sessions, that took 1958 hours, all eight patients regained some of the lost movement functions. Moreover, their legs gained some muscle mass. Within 12 months four out of eight patients were diagnosed with partial paraplegia (partial palsy of lower limbs). Before the experiment the palsy was complete.
What is even more astonishing is the fact that originally the technology wasn’t developed for regaining movement functions. Scientists only wanted to find an effective way of gathering the data about brain signals to control robotized limbs. That is exoskeletons were supposed to become new legs for people that lost their own limbs or people partly limited in their movement. But during the experiment the scientists understood that such simulations can help them to restore neurotic connections. Thus, the aim of the experiment changed.
“We started with studying a technology of robotized devices controlling the brain that resulted in a new therapy of reestablishing neurotic connections, with the help of which people may recuperate from different neurotic disorders”, says the research author.
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If to consider the situation in general, it is quite interesting. It occurs that the virtual technology can be widely used in health care. For sure, experts have already claimed that virtual reality can find its application in psychoanalysis to remove negative psychological consequences of experiencing some dramatic life events. But new results are much more considerable. They concern not only psychological but noticeable physical impact.
No doubt, scientists and engineers still need a lot of time to test the technology for applying it not only in research institutions but in hospitals. First of all, the scientists will have to arrange all documents needed for legal permission to use the technology, but it is a usual situation when it comes to new inventions. However, experts suppose that by 2020 virtual reality usage will become common in many hospitals.
According to the report, published by Goldman Sachs analysts, by 2025 the market volume of virtual reality (soft and devices themselves) will reach $80 billion dollars. This is how the market can change in nine years:
The branch of video games again holds a top position among other branches of virtual reality. Unexpectedly, health is going to be the second. Some results may be even more unpredictable: the usage of virtual reality in military sector may not be so relevant.