One of the most tragic injuries is damage to the spinal cord; the result can be paralysis that leaves the victim trapped forever in a body that will not respond to commands to make it move. When the connection between the brain and body is broken, it is nearly impossible to fix.
Scientists at the Florey Institute of Neurosciences in Melbourne, Australia have come up with a minimally-invasive technology that could enable paraplegics to walk again. The device in the photo above is something that they call a “stentrode.” The term is a combination of “stent” and “electrode,” which gives a pretty good indication of how it works. The stent part comes from the fact that it is inserted using a catheter, in a manner similar to the placement of stents to open cardiac arteries. In this case, however, the device is inserted adjacent to the region of the brain that is responsible for motor control. It can then record the impulses from the brain, which can then be forwarded to a controller that issues commands to a powered wheelchair, an exoskeleton, or even prosthetic limbs. Patients will be able to learn to control these machines simply by thinking about what they want to do.
The researchers hope to have their first human trials in 2017, with three subjects who have paralysis. The technology could also prove helpful for stroke victims or other mobility challenges such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s. The “bionic spine” could help re-establish communications between a brain that is otherwise working effectively and the rest of the patient’s body.