Major breakthrough for patients left paralysed by injury or illness. They could be back on their feet again, thanks to a breakthrough by Melbourne researchers who have designed a revolutionary bionic spine.
The spine, specifically, the spinal cord, is essentially a signal cable. It transmits electrical impulses from the brain to other parts of the body. Damage to the spine can result in paralysis.
With human trials set for next year, the device implanted into the brain will enable patients with spinal cord injuries to control a robotic limb by harnessing the power of thought.
The vein also cocoons the stent, allowing it to slip under the immune system’s radar. This means the body does not try to expel the stent, as it would a splinter or another foreign object.
Clive May, from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health said sheep trials showed the stent emitted a signal throughout the 190-day test period – and that the signal became stronger once tissue grew around the stent, locking it in place. He said the animal trials also showed the chance of blood clotting around the stent was minimal.
Australian scientists hope that a tiny device just 3cm long and a few millimetres wide will enable paralysed patients to walk again by allowing them to control bionic limbs with the power of subconscious thought.
The new device, dubbed the “bionic spine”, is the size of a small paperclip and will be implanted in three patients at the Royal Melbourne hospital in Victoria next year. The participants will be selected from the Austin Health spinal cord unit, and will be the first humans to trial the device, which so far has only been tested in sheep.
Doctors will make a tiny cut in the neck of the patients and feed a catheter containing the bionic spine up through the blood vessels leading into the brain, until it rests on top of the motor cortex, the part of the brain where nerve impulses that initiate voluntary muscle movements come from. The catheter will then be removed, leaving the bionic spine behind.
The outside of the bionic spine is fitted with electrodes which will detect signals from the motor cortex and send them to a small device that will be implanted in the patient’s shoulder. This device will translate the signals into commands, which will be fed to the bionic limbs via bluetooth to tell them to move.
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