Beacon Transcript – A team of Swiss scientists managed to get a monkey back on its legs as an implant helped the study’s paralyzed monkeys towards a faster, almost impossible recovery process.
The experiment was undertaken by a team of Switzerland-based, Lausanne University Hospital doctors led by Jocelyn Bloch, a neurosurgeon, with its results being published in the Nature journal this Wednesday.
During the 10-hours long surgery, the rhesus macaque that suffered from a partially cut spinal cord received a set of electrodes on the brain area which controls leg movements.
A wireless transmitter was also attached to the monkey’s outside skull area. A further set of electrodes was placed along its spinal cord, just below the location of the injury, and a muscle activity recorder was implanted in one of its legs.
As after six days the team switched on the device that picked up the brain electrodes’ signals and transmitted them to the corresponding spine ones with the use of a computer, the effects were instantaneous.
According to Dr. Bloch, the monkey’s legs started moving in just a few seconds after the device was turned on, a process which would have naturally taken place after a period of many months.
The monkey was back on its feet after just a few days and although it’s balance was somewhat lacking, the brain to leg communication was good enough so as to allow for a treadmill walk.
The experiment was the result of the team’s 10 years work on rodents, followed by another 7 years on monkeys, and saw another test being made on another monkey, with similarly fast results.
As scientists have focused in the past on using brain waves so as to control machinery the likes of robotic arms or legs, this study sought to use them so that their host could regain control over their body.
Jen Collinger, a University of Pittsburgh bioengineer, stated that the current study is a step closer to finishing the transition from the initial rodent studies to humans.
According to Collinger, as the principles learned from studying and experimenting on rats have been used and are useful on primates, they could now potentially be transposed for humans.
Scientists will still have to establish a number of factors in relation to the experiment. For example, they will have to test its long-term efficiency, and also address the potential balance and weight ratio support needed so as to be able to walk on two feet.
As the technology necessary to the experiment is also approved for human usage in Switzerland, the team has initiated a human clinical trial.
This first study includes 8 patients that suffer from partial leg paralysis. Two of the involved patients are now recovering after passing through the same spinal cord electrode implant surgery as the monkey.
Initial research will seek to determine if the electrodes implant could help in the natural recovery of people with partially damaged nerve connections by speeding up or augmenting the process.
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