Université de Strasbourg

Symposium 2018

Enabling the Disabled - Technological Reality and the Societal Perspective

Wednesday 21 November 2018, 15:00-17:00
Salle de conférence, ISIS
8 allée Gaspard Monge, Strasbourg (access)

The symposium is open to the public. Please register via the link below (now closed).


The 2018 Annual Symposium will feature the eminent neurosurgeon Alim-Louis Benabid, a pioneer of deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease and, more recently, of the development of an exoskeleton that is controlled by capturing brain signals, enabling paralysed persons to walk again.


15:00    Opening words by Michel Deneken
15:05   Presentation of the 2018 USIAS Fellows by Thomas Ebbesen, Director of USIAS
15:15 Introduction by Jacques Marescaux, IRCAD, USIAS
15:20 Keynote lecture by Alim-Louis Benabid, University of Grenoble, Clinatec
Enabling the Disabled: Technological Reality and the Societal Perspective
16:15  Discussion
16:30   Reception


Enabling the disabled: technological reality and the societal perspective

For more than 30 years, both medicine and technology have sought to compensate for sensorimotor deficits and their impact on the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries.

Spinal cord injuries at lower levels of the back, below the thoracic level are responsible for - often complete – paraplegia, the inability to use the lower limbs. For these, mechanical neuroprostheses have become increasingly efficient, allowing for a better level of social reintegration in terms of mobility and social and professional functionality, also because of the preservation of sensorimotor autonomy above the abdomen.

Spinal cord injuries at higher levels are much more challenging. Lower cervical spine injuries preserve autonomous diaphragmatic breathing, but lead to a sensorimotor loss of all four limbs (with the exception of the anterior metameres of the upper limbs). Even in a home environment, the resulting handicap is incompatible with individual autonomy, because of total lack of mobility and of control of trunk posture, and the functional limitation of the upper limbs where often only the flexion of the elbow and wrist remain.

exoskeleton neuroprosthesisCurrent attempts to address this problem draw on all sectors of biology and technology, such as muscle transposition, stem cell research, and adaptive equipment. In this context, we initiated a programme with a morphomimetic neuroprosthetic (wearable motorised exoskeleton), that activates the four limbs via a signal fired from the part of the brain’s cortex that controls mobility. This signal starts at the level of the sensorimotor cortex and is designed to be minimally invasive (using extra-dural intracranial sensors and wireless data transmission and power supply). In order to build applications that allow advanced motor skills of all four limbs, it is necessary for the decoding of the electrocorticographical (ECoG) data stream to be fast, reliable, and have low false positives. The project has been completed with a first patient who received an implant 15 months ago. He has since mastered 11 degrees of freedom, and keeps practising so as to increase the quality and the precision of responses, and to simultaneously manage different tasks.

Now that the primary objective has been reached, the next step is to concentrate on implementing this in terms of useful and reliable technology, by enabling mental control of a wheelchair (domestic objective), coupling the self-balancing movement of the exoskeleton with a Segway (public urban objective), making it compatible with a mini-excavator that can be controlled like a wheelchair (workplace reintegration objective).

Finally, it is necessary to enable social integration through the creation of a chain of helpers and forms of practical support, in concertation with insurance companies that have showed interest. The scientific challenge has been met; the social challenge must now be addressed, to enable the disabled person to find a place in society.


Alim Louis Benabid

The neurosurgeon and physicist, Alim-Louis Benabid, has revolutionised the treatment for Parkinson’s disease and other neurological illnesses by means of high frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS). This process, which consists of stimulation by the delivery of electric pulses to certain regions of the brain via electrodes, is able to effectively reduce tremors in patients. This “pacemaker for the brain” is used all over the world today and has already made it possible for more than 150,000 patients to once again have an autonomous and comfortable quality of life. More recently, he has started to work on the development of an exoskeleton that is controlled by capturing brain signals which enables paraplegics to walk again.

Alim-Louis Benabid was born in 1942 in Grenoble, and spent his childhood in Sétif, Algeria. He returned to Grenoble where he attended secondary school and university. He received his medical degree in 1970 and a doctorate in physics in 1978, both from Joseph Fourier University (now part of the Université Grenoble Alpes) in Grenoble. He became a staff neurosurgeon at Joseph Fourier University in 1972, professor of experimental medicine in 1978, and professor of biophysics from 1983 – 2007. From 1988 to 2006 he was director of the research unit “Preclinical Neurosciences” of INSERM, the French national institute for health and medical research; and he was head of the neurosurgery department of Grenoble’s teaching hospital from 1989 to 2005. He has also been honorary professor at the Institut Universitaire de France since 1999, was made Officer of the Legion of Honour in 2012, and has been a member of the Académie des Sciences since 2002.

Alim-Louis Benabid’s research has focused on several brain pathologies, in particular tumours and abnormal movements, and he developed what is known as stereotactic surgery, which makes it possible to target very precisely certain areas of the brain. He has extended its applications to treating drug-resistant patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease as well as from other brain disorders.

Since 2007 he has been scientific adviser to the Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA) - the French Atomic Energy Commission - and he currently combines his research in this area with that carried out in the field of nanotechnology within the CLINATEC project. This is a biomedical research laboratory dedicated to micro-technology applications in the domain of health, which was developed by the CEA technological research directorate, in partnership with the Grenoble teaching hospital, Inserm and Grenoble Joseph-Fourier University. It meets the major public health challenge of developing new therapeutic approaches to brain diseases.

Alim-Louis Benabid has been the laureate of many prizes throughout his career, including the 2014 Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award for his work on Parkinson’s disease, the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in the category “life sciences”, and the European Inventor Award 2016 in the category “research”.

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