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New Bionic Implant Gives Hope to the Paralyzed

New Bionic Implant Gives Hope to the Paralyzed
July 15
13:54 2016

A team of more than 50 scientists and engineers at the University of Melbourne in Australia has developed a matchstick-sized electrode that could give paraplegics the ability to “walk with the power of thought.”

The revolutionary bionic brain implant, called a “stentrode,” will be inserted through a vein and implanted next to the motor cortex (the part of the brain that controls movement). The device will pick up brain signals, allowing patients to control an exoskeleton just by thinking about it.

The team has plans to test the device on a group of paralyzed patients with spinal cord injuries next year.

The brain-to-machine interface is similar to a pacemaker in that it “communicates” electrically with tissue using sensors inserted into a blood vessel.

“We have been able to create the world’s only minimally invasive device that is implanted into a blood vessel in the brain via a simple day procedure, avoiding the need for high-risk open brain surgery,” says lead author Dr. Thomas Oxley.

The team’s goal is to help paralyzed individuals regain mobility by recording brain activity and transforming those signals into electrical commands that control prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons.

“In essence this is a bionic spinal cord,” says Oxley. The signals could also be used to control computers and wheelchairs.

Pre-clinical trials, which have been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, suggest the tiny device is effective and safe for long-term use.

Tests on sheep show that the stentrode is able to pick up the sort of brain signal that can control bionic limbs and can be inserted safely into the brain (via angiography) without the risks associated with open brain surgery.

“There have been a large number of challenges that we have overcome to manufacture a device that is suitable and safe for implantation. One of the main challenges was to enable a device that was flexible enough to get around the blood vessels as well as strong enough to be pushed through the tube required to deliver it,” explains Dr. Nicholas Opie. The device is constructed using a nickel-titanium composite “that enables it greater resilience when being flexed and compressed.”

Spinal cord injuries and stroke, which affect 1 in 50 people, are the leading cause of disability. In the US, nearly 6 million individuals live with paralysis. In Australia, where the device is being developed:

  • 150,000 people live with severe disability caused by stroke.
  • 20,000 people live with spinal cord injuries (the typical patient being a 19-year-old male).

There is also potential for the stentrode to help those suffering from epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain issues.

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