Wireless Interface Could Help Patients with Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries are especially tragic because of their permanence. It’s utterly devastating for a vibrant, active person to learn he or she will never walk again. The permanent nature of some spinal cord injuries has baffled and frustrated researchers for centuries, but a recent study published in the journal Nature suggests there may soon be hope for restoring voluntary movement for some victims of paralysis.

An international group of 21 scientists, in their report entitled, "A brain-spine interface alleviating gait deficits after spinal cord injury in primates," claims to have developed technology that has restored function to the temporarily paralyzed legs of rhesus monkeys. The point of the research was not to heal the spinal cord lesion that interrupted nerve messages from the brain, but to bypass the lesion with a wireless relay so that brain activity would trigger an electrical stimulation of leg muscles. This strategy had already been used to restore grasping ability in hand paralysis, but gaining control over leg muscle activity for walking is a considerably more complex endeavor.

Scientists created a temporary lesion in the thoracic section of the monkeys’ spinal cord so that brain impulses could not reach their legs. They then implanted an array of tiny electrodes in the brain to read the signals sent to stimulate the leg muscles and a spinal cord stimulation system in the lumbar region of the spine to send electrical stimuli to move the leg muscles. A wireless transmission system delivered the brain’s instructions to the lumbar region, and the implanted electrodes sent signals to a computer that relayed instructions to the lumbar stimulation system. Scientists observed complex leg activity that included “weight-bearing locomotion of the paralyzed leg on a treadmill and overground.” Because the system is wireless, the monkeys were able to move naturally without being tethered by wires hooked up to a machine.

Although the research is promising, scientists admit it will take years before all the components of this technology can be tested on humans with spinal cord injuries.

If you have suffered a spinal cord injury due to an accident Virginia, North Carolina or South Carolina, trust a law firm with more than 200 years of combined legal experience. Call Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban at (888) 351-1038 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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