Spinal cord transection is a devastating permanent injury, and we still don’t have a way to reconnect broken neural pathways in such patients. Instead of fixing the injury, researchers from Japan’s Science and Technology Agency and the University of Washington developed an electronic bypass system that tapped neural signals above a spinal lesion in a monkey for transmission . This signal was recreated and reintroduced below the lesion, and effectively helped restore volitional movement in the animal’s weakened hand.
Additionally, the researchers created another connection from a muscle weakened by the lesion to the spine, further boosting the effectiveness of the system and having the monkey regain a good deal of its abilities.
More details from the announcement by National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Japan:
“The important point is that individuals who are paralyzed want to be able to move their own bodies by their own will. This study was different from what other research groups have done up to now; we didn’t use any prosthetic limbs like robotic arms to replace the original arm. What’s new is that we have been able to use this artificial neuronal connection bypassing the lesion site to restore volitional control of the subject’s own paretic arm. I think that for lesions of the corticospinal pathway this might even have a better chance of becoming a real prosthetic treatment rather than the sort of robotic devices that have been developed recently”, said Yukio Nishimura, Associate Professor of the National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Japan.
Study in Frontiers in Neural Circuits: Restoration of upper limb movement via artificial corticospinal and musculospinal connections in a monkey with spinal cord injury…