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FINE Gives Mobility Back To Paraplegic

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FINE Gives Mobility Back To Paraplegic

New device send electric pulses to nerves to give back mobility of paralyzed muscles….

A new generation of devices may one day allow people with paralyzed limbs to regain control of their muscles by sending electrical pulse directly to the nerves.

When people suffer with spinal cord injuries, the nerves that send signals to the lower half of the body are effectively cut-off. But Matthew Schiefer, a neural engineer from Case Western Reserve University, has been able to bypass this problem by sending electrical pulses directly to the nerves.

fine flat interface nerve electrode FINE Gives Mobility Back To Paraplegic

Flat Interface Nerve Electrode

While clinical trials have already shown some success, the test have so far only been carried out on the able-bodied treating patients with spinal cord injuries is the next step.

The technique was first demonstrated in 2006 when a different Case Western team enabled a paralyzed patient to straighten their knee, and with a little assistance, stand up for 2 mins. But controlling one knee alone is not enough, and Schiefers latest experiments used a new method to connect up the four muscles needed to stand up from a sitting position.

In the 2006 trial, electrodes were simply placed on the nerves surface using a spiral cuff, but this makes for a poor connection with fiber bundles close to the nerves core.

Schiefer new technique employs a flat interface nerve electrode that ‘flattens’ nerves to bring fiber bundles to the surface, where theyre closer to the electrodes that shock muscles into movement.

It makes for a much better connection, says Dustin Tyler, who invented the FINE and heads research into its effectiveness. We apply a little bit of pressure to reshape the cross-section without damaging the nerve.

“The cuff was temporarily implanted on the femoral nerves of seven patients undergoing routine thigh surgery. Pulses of current 250 microseconds long were used to selectively and independently activate the muscles that extend the knee and flex the hip joint when a person stands up. The pulses were not enough to bend the joints as much as they would when standing, but the results suggest that longer pulses should stimulate the muscles to provide enough force to support the bodys weight.”

Although it may sound like Science Fiction, these devices are literally around the corner. The first commercial walking-aid to use a similar technique, Neurostep, goes on sale in Europe in the next few months.

neurostep FINE Gives Mobility Back To Paraplegic

Neurostep Walking Aid

Developed by Neurostream Technologies of Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures in Quebec, Canada, and designed by Andy Hoffer at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, the Neurostep is a device that controls ankle movement for people with foot-drop a condition in which nerve damage makes one foot hang limply while stepping forward.

Neurostep connects using just four electrodes, placed around a nerve inside a cylindrical cuff similar to the spiral one used in Case Westerns 2006 trial. The device not only sends currents into the nerve, it also reads signals sent back by the foot to communicate the pressure it feels. A control unit implanted in the thigh uses that pressure information to time its signal to flex the ankle in a way that achieves a normal gait.

Future FINE devices could be controlled by the user with a computer interface, or even directly by thought if scientists can wire up to the brain. Companies such as Touch Bionics have already displayed the technology to control bionic limbs by the power of thought alone, so it’s certainly possible. The question is, when exactly will these devices be commercially available to give mobility back to the paraplegic? For now, I guess we’ll just have to wait for that answer.


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