Here’s How This Bionic Spinal Cord Could One Day Help Paralyzed People Move Their Limbs With Their Thoughts

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Scientists have created a device called stentrode as a bionic spinal cord to deliver electrodes to the brain’s darkest corners in a less invasive way than surgery. This technology could allow paraplegics to walk again while only using the power of the brain.

In order to study the inner workings of the brain, we have to go deep and personal with it. That means a surgery is necessary to access the gray matter in the brain and observe neurology in action or even explore how to control robotic limbs.

However, a study published in Nature Biotechnology shows how researchers from the University of Melbourne may have found a way to read neurological activity without opening a person’s skull. The study is led by neurologist Thomas Oxley and funded in part by DARPA under their Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET) Program.

Neural-Recording Device Stentrode

The matchstick-sized device is not new. Called the stentrode, it is actually based from the stent which is a small mesh tube used to treat weak or narrow arteries. This time, though, the bionic spinal cord includes an array of electrodes.

The stentrode will be inserted into the patient’s neck using the method of catheter angiography which is significantly a lower-risk procedure as compared to the traditional open-brain surgery. Real-time imaging will then be used by the scientists to direct the stentrode to the brain where it will read nearby neuron activity by attaching it on the blood vessel walls.

Meanwhile, the device is made flexible enough to easily pass through curved blood vessels. At the same time, rigidity is maintained for the array of electrodes to emerge from the delivery tube when it arrives at its destination.

RE-NET’s program manager Doug Weber says the stentrode could open avenues for “more practical implementations” when it comes to the many “life-changing applications of brain-machine interfaces.” Moreover, the method has lower risks for problems regarding blood-brain barrier.

This breakthrough in creating a bionic neural recording device gives hope to paraplegics to possibly walk again without having to go through a surgery. There is a great potential that one’s brain power can expand the operation of brain-machine interfaces (BMIs).

The study conducted by the team of Vascular Bionics Laboratory researchers used sheep’s brain. For six months, they observed and compared the electrical signals that were received through the traditional open-brain surgery and through the stentrode. The signals of the two exceptionally matched.

Human trials for the bionic spinal cord will start this year at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia. There is a great expectation from this breakthrough device to treat physical disabilities and neurological disorders if all trials are successful.


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