Implanted electrodes 'could help restore movement to paralysed limbs'

Engineering

A new study has shown how a tiny array of implanted electrodes could be used to help restore movement to paralysed patients with spinal cord injuries.

The Oregon State University research involved the delivery of electrical stimulation pulses to peripheral nerve fibres in order to activate the plantar-flexor muscles in the ankle of an anaesthetised cat.

“Researchers have shown how a tiny array of implanted electrodes could be used to help restore control of paralysed limbs.“

Pulses were transmitted using an optimised proportional-integral-velocity controller, with the nerves receiving the impulses via a 100-electrode array with a base measuring just 16 sq mm.

Known as a Utah Slanted Electrode Array, the device was able to activate specific nerve fibres at the right times to move the ankle muscles in a smooth, fatigue-resistant way.

Potentially, this could lead to the development of wearable smartphone-sized control boxes that deliver impulses to implanted electrodes in their peripheral nervous system, enabling at least some level of movement to be restored.

John Mathews, professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the Oregon State University College of Engineering, said: "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."

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