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Implant Restores Paralyzed Man's Leg Movement 65

Posted by Soulskill
from the we-have-the-technology dept.
cylonlover writes "In a move that gives cautious hope to the millions of people suffering some form of paralysis, a team of researchers from UCLA, Caltech and the University of Louisville has given a man rendered paralyzed from the chest down after a hit-and-run accident in 2006 the ability to stand and take his first tentative steps in four years. The team used a stimulating electrode array implanted into the man's body to provide continual direct electrical stimulation to the lower part of the spinal cord that controls movement of the hips, knees, ankles and toes, to mimic the signals the brain usually sends to initiate movement (abstract)."
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Implant Restores Paralyzed Man's Leg Movement

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  • A small step for man, a great leap for mankind
    • Re:All the best (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Friday May 20, 2011 @09:30AM (#36191636) Journal

      Even if it doesn't restore full mobility, I think this is a great advancement that allows a paralyzed patient to stave off or to recover from the muscle atrophy or blood clots caused by lack of motion that occurs after the accident.

      • by daedae (1089329)

        It wasn't clear to me from the article how much control he actually has over the mobility. It says instead of hooking the brain back up to the legs, they're just stimulating the nerves in that area to wake the legs back up, and then the legs sort of make decisions on their own in terms of standing or maybe walking to stay balanced on a moving treadmill.

        So it would definitely be useful for keeping paralyzed legs fit, but I wonder what the equivalent would be for stimulating a paralyzed arm?

        • by Phoshi (1857806)
          Legs can't 'make decisions on their own', especially not something as complex as balance, which requires information from the inner ear. It seems likely to me that this doesn't interface with the brain simply because that's also a very complex, mostly theoretical field. However, that this can be done at all gives a lot of hope for next decade's paralyzed people regaining some level of conscious movement.
          • by daedae (1089329)

            The stimulation therefore doesn't induce movement, but taps into a network of spinal cord nerves that are capable of initiating movement on their own without the help of the brain, which then work together with cues from the legs to direct muscle movement.

            Okay, so saying the legs make decisions on their own was somewhat of an oversimplification, but my point that the brain is not involved and so it's not clear how much practical control he has over mobility or what the equivalent would be for other limbs remains.

            • Another aspect of this technique is that some signals from the brain may be getting through, but they're not strong enough to get the leg muscles to contract properly. In this scenario, the device would be acting as an amplifier. Giving the leg muscles enough signal strength to contract, but introducing noise to the signal recieved from the brain.
            • by Phoshi (1857806)
              Well, even if there's no practical usage yet, that it works at all would surely be a great step towards building something that does work? Rome wasn't built in a day, etc.
          • Re:All the best (Score:4, Informative)

            by Renraku (518261) on Friday May 20, 2011 @02:41PM (#36194796) Homepage

            Actually, that's wrong. At least in cats. As proof they kept a cat's body alive, removed its brain, and put it on a treadmill. The cat was held up, but as the legs felt pressure on them, they started to run by themselves. Rather well, too, matching speed with the treadmill. The muscles and spinal cord basically play a huge role in balance and walking..it isn't 100% brain controlled.

        • Re:All the best (Score:5, Informative)

          by DrgnDancer (137700) on Friday May 20, 2011 @10:08AM (#36192052) Homepage

          I heard an article about this on NPR this morning. He apparently has a fair amount of control and even feeling while the power is turned on. He talked about getting a shot in his lower back while the systems was powered up and being able to feel the pain, the pressure of the insertion, everything you'd expect a normal person to be able to feel. He joked about it being both bad and good, but you could tell he was really pleased.

          The interesting thing is that they aren't, from what I understand, trying to bypass the damaged nerves, rather they're applying a continuous current to them, which seems to boost the natural ability of the nerves to receive signals. For lack of a better description (and assuming I understand what's going on, which is assuming a lot, even the doctors don't seem too clear on the details) the applied current allows the nerve signals to "jump" the cut in his nervous system.

          Also for reasons I don't understand, they only use the system 2 hours or so a day, so for the majority of the time he's a normal paraplegic. That may explain why it's taking him so long to relearn things like walking and standing, though the article indicates that only gross movements may ever be possible so it could be that the signals just aren't strong enough still for fine motor control.

          • The interesting thing is that they aren't, from what I understand, trying to bypass the damaged nerves, rather they're applying a continuous current to them, which seems to boost the natural ability of the nerves to receive signals. For lack of a better description (and assuming I understand what's going on, which is assuming a lot, even the doctors don't seem too clear on the details) the applied current allows the nerve signals to "jump" the cut in his nervous system. Also for reasons I don't understand, they only use the system 2 hours or so a day

            My guess would be that since it sounds like they're using a type of amplifier and that the system is so new they don't what to further injure this person's nervous system by having too much voltage too long. By the sounds of it this person's set of issues is rare, so it's doubly important they do this 'velvet glove' style.

            As well, I would like to parrot the 'keep up the good work'. I have a cousin who was in gymnastics when he was younger then in his 20s had a serious traffic accident and left him paralyse

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday May 20, 2011 @09:21AM (#36191542) Journal
    This is supposed to be the future. It's cool that he can walk and all; but where is the iphone app that will allow me to control his legs over the internet?
  • by gatkinso (15975) on Friday May 20, 2011 @09:22AM (#36191554)

    Keep it up!

    UCLA.
    Caltech.
    University of Louisiana.

    Reports of American research demise seem to be premature (looking at the names the team looks multinational - hard to tell just by a name these days).

    • If you haven't seen it before, you should add Futurity [futurity.org] to your web reading rotation. It is a website dedicated to news stories about American university research, and (no surprise) headlines today with this mobility story.

  • Key points for me (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HBI (604924) <kparadine&gmail,com> on Friday May 20, 2011 @09:46AM (#36191804) Homepage Journal

    1) The spinal cord is not simply a transmission mechanism. Primarily, it controls the operation of the lower extremities.

    2) The spinal cord requires a minimal 'data feed' to operate - over the spinal cord itself.

    To me, this explains much about paralysis and ultimately, how to conquer it. It is interesting that I had never had the idea of the spinal cord being just the 'copper' linking your extremities to your brain corrected at any point in the past.

    I also know someone with spina bifida who would benefit from this, if it were possible. Of course, reading about the physical condition and special circumstances of the research volunteer (having feeling below the injury) suggests that this may not be possible.

    • It's a part of your brain. Like all nerves, your brain runs throughout your entire body. You cut off a piece of your brain, it still functions, but without the connections it had in the past.

    • Re:Key points for me (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Plekto (1018050) on Friday May 20, 2011 @10:47AM (#36192468)

      Right. But there's nothing to say that a properly designed shunt couldn't fix or bridge the gap (or we re-wire directly form the break to the muscles themselves). Most of what happens in your body (legs as an example) is controlled by a few specific groups of muscles, but it's not like we need to reconnect a thousand synthetic nerves to muscles and so on. It's only a few dozen. Once they are reconnected, recovery should be extremely quick.

      In a decade, spinal injuries will be a problem and no longer a disaster.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Erm, there will be several thousand axons bundled up in each of those 'only a few dozen' nerves that you reckon would be a doddle to reconnect. And getting the -motor neurones wired up is only part of achieving a full recovery - you need the afferents from proprioceptors for any kind of coordinated movement, correct alpha-gamma coactivation for proper functioning of muscle spindles, etc. Its not such a simple rewiring job as it seems...

    • I also know someone with spina bifida who would benefit from this, if it were possible. Of course, reading about the physical condition and special circumstances of the research volunteer (having feeling below the injury) suggests that this may not be possible.

      I'm not particularly optimistic either, spina bifida can come with very heavy damage. However, I read more and more about repairs on the nerve system, artificial components and improvements in the signal reception. Maybe it can be fixed in a decade or two.

  • CBS News has a video report on the subject. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/05/19/eveningnews/main20064470.shtml [cbsnews.com]
  • Nice way to work around the problem of the nerves not delivering the message -- add your own communication system. It would be nice if someone figures out how to repair broken links to the spinal cord, but using a different control and communication method is a good way to get some use of that otherwise unused muscle.

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