French scientists have created a new implant that has helped paralysed rats walk again without being rejected by their immune systems.
Previous experiments have shown that chemical and electric stimulation to the spines of paralysed rats have helped their legs move involuntarily.
For chemical and electric stimulation to work in humans in the long term, implants need to be used. The difficulty in doing this however occurs because the delicate neural tissue around the spinal cord is extremely sensitive.
Up until now, scientists have struggled to find an electronic device that could sit undisturbed next to the spinal cord or brain without causing inflammation and significant nerve tissue damage.
Past research in rats has found that such implants normally fail within a few weeks due to them detaching from the spine or because the implants trigger a ‘foreign body’ immune response causing the body to reject the devices.
In a significant step towards using chips to help people paralysed due to spinal cord injuries walk again, scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have developed an electronic implant that closely mimics neural tissue.
The flexible prosthetic ribbon, which is made of silicon and embedded with electrodes that can bend and pull in any direction without breaking, is designed to be placed directly onto the spinal cord and deliver electric signals and drugs to the surrounding nerves.
The so-called ‘E- Dura’ implant mimics the protective membrane around the spine known as dura mater to ensure the body’s immune system does not reject it. Paralysed rats who were fitted with the implant were able to walk unaided after just a few weeks of training and the device continued to work even after eight weeks.
Researchers who hope to move to clinical trials on humans in the near future, believe such implants could last up to 10 years before needing to be replaced.
Clearly, we have a long way to go before we see the use of such neuroprostheses in people as standard. However this research is certainly very encouraging as the on-going development of bio-compatible spinal implants certainly brings the potential for helping those with paraplegia move again, ever closer.
In the meantime however, where someone sustains an injury to their spinal cord, the subsequent care and rehabilitation costs they then require form the largest part of any personal injury claim for compensation. That said it is paramount, people with spinal cord injuries focus on their rehabilitation to ensure they stay healthy and achieve their maximum potential.
Carol Hopwood is a Senior Personal Injury Lawyer and Head of the Brain and Spinal Injury claims team at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Liverpool.
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