Wireless Spinal Implant Helping Paralyzed Monkeys Regain Movement

Category: Spinal Cord Injury | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: November 21, 2016

Monkey Spine Implant

A wireless implant has helped bridge the gap between the brain and the damaged spinal cord in monkeys suffering from partial paralysis.

Spinal Implant Device

Researchers say the device relies on an advanced brain recording and nerve stimulation system that uses a computer to decode and translate brain signals and send them to the area of the spinal cord below the damaged site. Scientists discovered that monkeys outfitted with the wireless device were able to regain the ability to walk in a leg that had been previously paralyzed, and they hope the technology can eventually be made available to humans within the next 10 years.

However, spinal specialist Gregoire Courtine said the device will be aimed at improving “recovery and quality of life,” and should not be viewed as some sort of science fiction fix to their paralysis.

“People are not going to walk in the streets with brain-spine interface in the foreseeable future,” said Courtine.

So although the device won’t cure everyone with a limb paralysis, researchers are encouraged by the successful trials in primates. The device, which was developed to be tested on four-legged gait primates, relays signals that extend and bend the lone paralysed leg in monkeys, helping to mimic their normal gait. However, the device is not yet capable of adapting to more subtle movements, like changing direction, navigating obstacles, or in the case of humans, aiding in two-legged balance.

Wireless Spinal Manipulation

The device is still in its infancy and there are hurdles along the way to make it available for humans, but researchers believe the wireless transmitter could play a big role in rehab and recovery after a spinal cord injury. Scientists believe the transmitter can help strengthen connections between areas of the spinal cord and the injured limbs, spurring neuron action damaged areas of the body. They also have some big dreams for the possibility of helping people walk again, because walking isn’t an action that is done consciously. You don’t normally think about each step you take when walking, so researchers believe this subconscious, reflexive motion may be able to be regenerated through wireless electrical stimulation.

Currently, no previous research has found a way to involve the brain in the process of relaying electrical signals past a damaged spinal cord, but there’s a chance we might see this spinal technology in the coming decades should continued studies with primates prove fruitful.

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