Swiss scientists are ready to treat paralysis

    Using electrical stimulation of the damaged areas of the spinal cord, scientists were able to accurately control in real time the movement of the limbs of a paralyzed rat. On the approach - human trials ...

    We have all heard of exoskeletons that, with the help of external forces, allow paralyzed people to move their arms or legs. But the study described below proposes a solution that does not require bulky and complex wearable mechanisms, but relies only on internal stimulation.

    During the implementation of the NEUWalk project, scientists from the Lausanne Federal Polytechnic School (higher educational institution of the city - approx.) Forced the hind legs of a rat, completely paralyzed as a result of damage to the spinal cord, to make the movements necessary to move the rodent.

    The project is based on the idea that the human body needs electricity to function properly. Roughly speaking, the brain moves the body, sending electrical signals down to the spinal cord and to the nervous system. When the spinal cord is damaged, the signals cannot reach the corresponding area of ​​the brain tissue, which leads to immobilization of a certain part of the body. The higher the damage, the greater the paralysis.

    But the electrical signal sent through the electrodes directly to the area of ​​the spinal cord below the damage can replace brain signals - this is the discovery of a group of scientists from Lausanne under the guidance of neurobiologist Gregoire Courine (Grégoire Courtine).

    Scientists previously damaged the spinal cord of several rats in its middle part, which led to complete paralysis of the hind limbs of rodents. Then they implanted flexible electrodes into the brain tissue, connecting tissue sections to bypass the damage, which eventually allowed scientists to transmit electrical signals to paralyzed areas of the animal’s body.

    Of course, implanted electrodes alone were not enough for the rat to begin to make walking movements. The way the brain sends electrical signals is by no means like an illegible stream. On the contrary - the frequency of electrical stimulation, for example, affects the height of the limb.

    Having carefully studied all aspects of how electrical stimulation affects the movement of the limbs of a laboratory animal, a group of scientists identified ways to stimulate the spinal cord for a smooth, even “gait” and even overcome obstacles.

    “We learned to fully control the hind legs of the rat,” says Courten. - The rat could not arbitrarily control its limbs, but we were able to restore the activity of the spinal cord and stimulate it to perform natural walking movements. "We can monitor in real time how the rat moves and how high it raises its legs."

    Clinical trials in humans can begin no earlier than June next year. Kurten's group plans to start working with patients with partial spinal cord injuries at the University Hospital Lausanne. For work, the Gait Platform equipment complex created in the course of research will be used, which consists of a specially made treadmill and supporting system, as well as 14 infrared cameras that read the movement of reflective markers on the patient’s body, and two conventional cameras for recording movements.

    “Simple scientific discoveries that shed light on how the nervous system works can be used to create more effective neuro prosthetics technologies,” says co-author and neuroengineer Silvestro Micera. “We believe that this technology can one day significantly improve the lives of people who suffer from neurological disorders.”

    The original article about the NEUWalk project is  here .

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