Bionic Spine May Allow Paralyzed Patients to Walk Via Subconscious Thought

Patti MayonnaiseFebruary 8, 20162,086 Views
Photo Credit: TheGuardian.com Photo Credit: TheGuardian.com

 

As such a tiny device that measures a mere 3cm long and a few millimeters wide, Australian scientists have exceedingly high hopes for their recent technological advancement. It is believed that this small gadget could allow paralyzed patients to walk once more by enabling them to control bionic limbs with their minds. Dubbed the “bionic spine,” this paperclip sized device will be implanted into three patients next year at the Royal Melbourne hospital in Victoria.
Each participant will be chosen from the Austin Health spinal cord unit as the very first humans to complete a clinical trial of the device, which up to this point has only been tested in sheep. After making a tiny incision in the neck of patients, a catheter containing the implant will be fed through the blood vessels leading into the brain, before ultimately resting on top of the motor cortex. This is the portion of the brain where nerve impulses which lead to voluntary muscle movements originate.
Each bionic spine’s exterior is fitted with electrodes that detect signals from the motor cortex and send them to a device that is to be implanted in the patient’s shoulder. This apparatus will then translate signals into commands subsequently feeding them to the bionic limbs via Bluetooth technology alerting them to move. Such a simple procedure should only take a couple of hours to complete.
According to the co-principal investigator and biomedical engineer at the University of Melbourne, Dr. Nicholas Opie: “This is a procedure that Royal Melbourne staff do commonly to remove blood clots. The difference with our device is we have to put it in and leave it in.” Although there have been previous devices trialed allowing paraplegics to control the movement of their exoskeleton with only thoughts, most mandate invasive surgery. Some even require the removal of a piece of the skull (a craniotomy) which can carry risk of infection and numerous other complications.
Two years ago, a 29-year-old paraplegic man made the first kick of the World Cup via a mind-controlled robotic suit comprised of a cap fitted with electrodes. The method also included another procedure involving puncturing thousands of electrodes into the brain. However, the procedure is only effective for up to 1 year before the brain begins to attack it as a foreign object, growing scar tissue over it.
The first of its kind, the bionic spine is minimally invasive and far less trouble than prior developments like the cap or robotic suit. Opie’s plan is to initially try the device in patients with lower-limb paralysis as they have the most to gain from the technology. It is hoped that it will help patients with conditions of epilepsy, OCD and Parkinson’s eventually. Their research has been funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council as well as the U.S. Defense Department (with an interest in rehabilitating wounded soldiers.)

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