ORLANDO, Fla. -- Spinal cord injuries typically cause paralysis that can seldom be cured, but some scientists in Switzerland claim their new electronic spinal cord, which is bendable and stretchable, is capable of repairing damaged spinal cords, thereby curing the paralysis.
So far clinical trials have only cured paralysis in rats in research conducted at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne (EPFL, Switzerland). EPFL promised to move on the human trials and deliver a commercial product soon. There are about 250,000 people living with spinal cord injuries in the U.S. alone.
Neuroprosthetics for paralysis have been designed and tried, but their success has been limited to short periods because of friction with the surrounding tissue which causes inflammation and eventually rejection. EPFL's new material -- called e-Dura -- is both bendable and flexible and thus can be permanently implanted with no chance of inflammation or rejection. Paralyzed rats were able to regain their mobility after only a few weeks of therapy.
Click on the image below to begin the slideshow.
Biocompatible implant has a silicone substrate that is covered with cracked gold electric conducting tracks that can be pulled and stretched without damage.
"Neural implants are systems designed to stabilize and treat the injured nervous system," says Stephanie Locur, a scientist at EPFL in the video below. "There are multiple technologies available, but in the long run very often they trigger inflammation and even rejection by the host. Our innovation, is that we designed an implant that is soft and stretchable just like the surrounding tissue while still integrating electrical stimulation and chemical stimulation and remaining fully elastic."
The system works by using a biocompatible silicone material that easily stretches and bends to the same degree as flesh, but which contains cracked gold electric connections to deliver stimulation, and in some cases monitor the patient's "intention" to walk to which the system immediately responds to stimulate the correct muscles. At the end of the artificial spinal cord are electrodes made from platinum micro-beads that connect to the nerves at base of the neck or in some cases directly to the brain. Also in the artificial spinal cord are microfluidic channels that can deliver neurotransmitters to provide more natural stimulation of undamaged nerve and muscle cells.
Stephanie Locus, a scientist at Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne (EPFL, Switzerland) explains how the electronic spine restores the ability to walk in the paralyzed.
Next the scientists plan to move to human clinical trials with more complicated multi-functional implants that can be installed for years, and are hopeful that they will be closely followed by commercialization. Locus is working with professor Grégoire Courtine on the project and hopes to expand its scope to treating epilepsy, pain management and Parkinson’s disease.
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times