Implants Spare Monkeys From Lifelong Paralysis

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With the aid of implants, monkeys suffering from lifelong leg paralysis are now out and about.

If only these monkeys could talk, they will be thanking experts for performing brain implants on them.

Less than a week after implant procedures were performed, the monkeys were able to get up and use their legs to move about.  The procedure done on the injured subjects is known as the brain-spine interface.  

Electrical implants were embedded in specific areas of the spine creating a diversion from the injured region.  As these non-working ‘links’ are bypassed, signals travel smoothly from the brain to the monkey’s’ limbs.

A renowned expert in spinal cord repair, Gregoire Courtine said that this is the first successful brain implant involving primates as subjects.  He was elated when the monkeys could walk again.  At the moment, however, he could not say if the procedure can be conducted on humans too.  There are several tests to be done before the procedure could be safely and effectively applied to people who are paralyzed and are incapable of moving certain muscles in the body.  

With a healthy spine, the brain’s motor cortex can carry out its function of sending signals that pass through the spine down to where the lumbar region is located.  This region is composed of a system of neurons that trigger coordinated leg muscle movements including walking, running, and jumping.

If the spine is unhealthy or traumatized, relaying of messages from the brain to the spine, and down to the leg muscles would be difficult or worse, impossible.

Experts used electrode arrays to record messages from the motor cortex of paralyzed monkeys.  It was used to pick up signals released by the cortex at an instant when there is an urge to get up and walk.

The recorded brain activity is then sent to a computer which translates these and subsequently transmits the same to electrodes embedded in the spine’s lumbar area.  Neurons will be stimulated by the electrodes and this will trigger a muscle contraction in the monkey’s legs.

Erwan Bezard, one of the researchers disclosed that soon after, the monkeys were able to walk without the need of any physical therapy.

Courtine and Bezard’s work appeared in Nature journal.  Their team will study the brain-spine interface further, to include its efficiency on humans.

If found successful on humans, this is going to be a breakthrough in treating or overcoming paralysis.

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