Researchers from the Oregon State University College of Engineering and the University of Utah demonstrated how patients with spinal cord injuries could regain use of paralyzed limbs using a tiny array of electrodes. The team’s work was published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.
When the spinal cord is damaged, it interrupts the flow of electrical signals between the nerves in the peripheral nervous system and the brain. The team of researchers focused on directing electrical stimulation to peripheral nerve fibers to activate the muscles in an ankle of an anesthetized cat.
The cat’s nerves received the targeted electrical pulses with a 100-electrode array – the base of which measured just 16 square millimeters. The electrodes were optimized to activate particular nerve fibers at exactly the right time, which made the cat’s ankle muscles work in a fatigue-resistant way.
The team suggests that one day, a paralyzed person have electrodes implanted into his or her peripheral nervous system and a wearable control box could deliver impulses to restore some level of movement back into paralyzed limbs.
“Say someone is paralyzed and lies in bed all day and gets bed sores,” V. John Mathews, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Oregon State University College of Engineering, said in prepared remarks. “Early versions of this technology could be used to help the person get up, use a walker and make a few steps. Even those kinds of things would have an enormous impact on someone’s life, and of course we’d like people to do more. My hope is in five or 10 years there will be at least elemental versions of this for paralyzed persons.”