Researchers of the Edmond and Lily Safra International Neuroscience Institute in Natal are football fans and are looking forward to seeing Brazil make their debut against Croatia on 12 June, at the Corinthians Arena in São Paulo. But nothing can be compared with their expectations in relation to what is going to happen minutes before the kick-off of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The walk which will be taken by a paraplegic patient, with the assistance of an exoskeleton, to take the tournament’s first kick-off will be a milestone of the project that they have been dedicating all their efforts to night and day.
“Today, I work on the Walk Again Project full-time. There are no weekends, holidays, Christmas, New Year. We’re doing everything we can to ensure that the demonstration goes as smoothly as possible. Fingers crossed, but it’s all about work and not luck”, said Fabricio Brasil, thirty-three and one of the Institute’s researchers.
He has an Electrical Engineering degree, an MA in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Neuroscience. In the project, he is one of the people in charge of capturing brain signals and arranging them into codes, so that the exoskeleton - to be worn by paraplegic patients - will be able to understand the commands.
“I was very happy to have been invited to take part. When I was a child I thought of studying medicine, but then I gave that idea up in place of engineering. But today I can put both of them together. I try and make it possible for my knowledge in engineering to be applied in medicine, particularly to help someone who needs it, a patient who has not been able to walk for 15 or 20 years", explained Brasil.
Cutting edge science
Another researcher on the project, Renan Moioli sees the demonstration at the World Cup opening match as an opportunity to bring an end to the thought that Brazil is not capable of producing cutting edge science.
“It'll serve to bring to an end to the belief held by many people, who still have doubts about Brazil in relation to professionals capable of developing whatever they need for any area whatsoever. This project shows that with work, we’re capable of developing, together with other world powers, something that will go down in history", said the thirty year old scientist.
Moioli is also an electrical engineer, with an MA in Computing Engineering and a PhD in Computational Neuroscience and Robotics. His contribution to the Walk Again Project refers to the control and programming part. The researcher is moved by a treble motivation from day to day.
“I'm very happy for science itself. It's a fantastic project involving several universities throughout the world and key-people in the area. Also, it motivates me from a professional perspective, as I have the opportunity to interact with a fantastic team of young researchers. And lastly – and most important –, there’s the social aspect, because we do science thinking about how we can make a contribution", he explained.
Just the beginning
Afghan researcher Solaiman Shokur, thirty-four, emphasised the symbology of the first kick-off for the Walk Again Project itself. “The first kick-off is a great image because it's more than the World Cup's initial kick-off, it is the first step of a longer project. For us it’ll be an achievement, but also the beginning of something more. We’ll be very pleased, but will know that it's the beginning of something bigger and longer, that I hope will continue for enough time so that it may cater for more than one person, so that thousands of people may walk again in the next few years”, he said.
Shokur has lived in several parts of the world, mostly because of his scientific career. With a degree in Computing Engineering, an MA in Robotics and a PhD in Neural Engineering, he has studied and worked in the United States and Europe. At the Federal Polytechnic School in Lausanne Switzerland, he was part of the team that developed the vest that sends tactile feedback to the patient. But it was during his childhood in Italy that he decided on who to support at the 2014 World Cup.
“I'm a football fan and I'm supporting Italy in the World Cup. And because I’m a fan, being part of something as thrilling as this is a unique chance. In a laboratory, you’re able to put on a demonstration for five, twenty people at the most. But we’re going to have the chance of showing many people something that we’ve been working on for a long time, potentially billions of people and this is obviously very very special", concluded Shokur.
Video (with English subtitles)