Spinal cord injury research: new implant under development

Today's post will be focused on an under-development medical device that recently popped up in the news.

The device is called the e-dura. It is a small implant that is designed to go onto a spinal cord and deliver drugs and electrical signals. The implant is flexible and is able to stretch. It is hoped that the e-dura could eventually lead to ways being developed to help spinal cord injury victims who suffer leg paralysis regain the ability to walk.  

Research regarding the e-dura has been conducted on rats. This research has yielded some encouraging findings, such as that:

  • Rats with leg paralysis were able to walk with the help of the implant. Worth noting here though is that the walking was only able to be directed by an exterior control, not the rats themselves. 
  • The implant was able to read neural impulses from the rats.
  • The implant did not cause any harm to the spinal cords of the rats it was implanted in.

However, there are still several questions left unanswered about the e-dura that have significant implications on its long-term possibilities of being able to help human spinal cord injury victims. These include:

  • Could the implant ever be improved to the point where it could allow voluntary movement of previously paralyzed legs, not just movement directed by an exterior control?
  • Can an un-wired version of the implant be developed? Currently, the implant needs to be connected by wires to an exterior device to help rats to walk. One could see how this would be incredibly impractical when it comes to potential human applications for the implant. 
  • Would the implant be able to function the way it is supposed to in humans? 

One hopes that, someday, medical researchers will come up with a device or treatment that can reliably restore walking ability to human spinal cord injury victims with leg paralysis. For the time being, however, it remains the case that many spinal cord injury sufferers with leg paralysis face a more-or-less permanent loss of the ability to walk. Such a permanent loss can have significant implications for spinal cord injury victims. If their injury came about from someone else's negligence, a spinal cord injury victim may be able to pursue compensation for such implications.  

Source: Live Science, "New Implant Lets Paralyzed Rats Walk Again," Jesse Emspak, Jan. 8, 2015

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