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Spinal cord wrapping device may help treat paralysis | Health

Key takeaways

  • An experimental wraparound device can provide a 360-degree view of the spinal cord

  • Until now, electrodes only provided a view of 20-30% of the spine

  • The device can also stimulate limb movement

THURSDAY, May 9, 2024 (HealthDay News) — A small, flexible device wrapped around the spinal cord could prove to be a breakthrough in the treatment of spinal injuries.

A device developed by a team from the University of Cambridge can record 360-degree information and provide a complete picture of spinal cord activity, researchers report in the journal Progress of science.

The device can also stimulate limb movement and bypass complete spinal cord damage, tests on live animals and human cadavers have shown.

This means the device is able to restore communication between the brain and spinal cord that has been lost or damaged, researchers say.

“The spinal cord is like a highway, carrying information in the form of nerve impulses to and from the brain,” said study co-lead author George Malliaras, professor of technology at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Engineering, in a press release. “Spinal cord damage causes interruption of movement, resulting in profound disability, including irreversible loss of sensory and motor function.”

Current methods of restoring normal nervous system function include piercing the spinal cord with electrodes and placing implants in the brain, which scientists say are high-risk surgeries.

A new wrap-around device could allow spinal injuries to be treated without the need for brain surgery, a much safer option for patients.

For example, the ability to monitor signals traveling back and forth along the spinal cord could dramatically help develop better treatments for spinal injuries and help doctors monitor the spinal cord during surgery.

The device uses very thin, high-resolution implants wrapped around the entire spinal cord, providing a safe 360-degree view of the spine for the first time.

“Most spinal cord monitoring or stimulation technologies only interact with motor neurons along the posterior or dorsal portion of the spinal cord,” said study co-investigator Dr. Damiano Barone, clinical lecturer in neurosurgery at the University of Cambridge. Clinical Medicine. “These approaches may only cover 20% to 30% of the spine, so you get an incomplete picture.”

Scientists say the devices are only a few millionths of a meter thick and require minimal power to operate.

Scientists say the thinness of the device means it can record signals without causing nerve damage because it does not penetrate the spinal cord itself.

“It was a difficult process because we had never done spinal implants this way before and it wasn’t clear if we could safely and effectively place them around the spine,” Malliaras said. “But with recent advances in both engineering and neurosurgery, the planets have aligned and we have made significant progress in this important field.”

Tests on laboratory rats showed that the device could stimulate limb movements with reaction times very close to normal human reflexes.

This shows that brain implants may not be necessary to restore movement to people with spinal cord injuries, researchers say – something like this device will be enough to restore back-and-forth communication.

“If someone has a spinal injury, their brain is fine, but that connection has been severed,” Barone said. “As a surgeon, you want to get to where the problem is, so adding brain surgery to spine surgery only increases the risk to the patient. We can collect all the information we need from the spinal cord in a much less invasive way, so it would be a much safer approach to treating spinal injuries.”

Scientists warn that treatment of spine injuries based on this technology will still take years. However, the device could speed up such treatment by providing the most complete picture ever of spinal cord activity.

“It was almost impossible to study the entire spinal cord directly in humans because it is so delicate and complex,” Barone said. “Monitoring during surgery will help us better understand the spinal cord without damaging it, which in turn will help us develop better treatments for conditions such as chronic pain, hypertension and inflammation. This approach shows great potential to help patients.”

More information

Johns Hopkins Medicine has more information about spinal cord injuries.

SOURCE: University of Cambridge, press release May 8, 2024

What does this mean for you

A new wrap-around device could help doctors examine the spinal cord in more detail than ever before, and could ultimately help restore movement to paralyzed people.