Australia scientists develop ‘bionic spine’ which could help paralysed patients walk
Scientists in Australia have developed a “bionic spine” which could enable people with spinal cord injuries to walk again by controlling a tiny paper clip-sized device implanted in the brain.
The device, to be implanted in three paraplegic patients in Melbourne next year, allows patients left paralysed by injury or illness to subconsciously control equipment that can move robotic limbs.
“It’s the holy grail for research in bionics,” Professor Terence O’Brien, from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, told Fairfax Media.
The procedure, developed by a team of 39 scientists, involves placing a one-inch stent alongside the brain’s motor cortex, which controls movement.The stent, which contains 12 electrodes, is inserted via a catheter into a vein in the neck and pushed up to the cortex – a process which avoids risky brain surgery and requires a hospital procedure which lasts hours rather than days.
Likened to a recording device, the stent can receive electrical signals emitted from the cortex and send them to a device implanted in the shoulder. This device can translate the signals into commands which can be transmitted wirelessly to bionic limbs or exoskeleton suits.
“The technical problem was how do you safely leave electrodes inside the brain, in a blood vessel inside the brain, without causing any damage to the subject,” said Dr Tom Oxley.
“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.”
The scientists hope the stent could assist with efforts to develop a bionic eye and may also be used to help to predict epileptic seizures, or to treat Parkinson’s disease and motor neurone disease.
Professor Clive May, from The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, said the procedure built on research in 2002 which found that monkeys could move a computer cursor with the power of thought.
“This showed it was theoretically possible to control a bionic limb using thought alone,” he wrote on The Conversation website.
“Before receiving the implant, patients … will be asked to imagine moving their arm left and right, up and down, and to imagine moving their hand toward targets on a computer screen. This will produce a virtual map of the motor cortex the surgeons can aim for during the [stent] implantation surgery, to ensure the device overlies the appropriate region of the motor cortex.”
The procedure, which has been trialled on sheep, has been outlined in the journal Nature Biotechnology. It is expected to be commercially available by the mid-2020s.
“One aim is to add more electrodes, allowing finer control for paralysed patients to not only walk again, but gain fine finger movements,” said Professor May.
By Jonathan Pearlman, Sydney | View Source