A new lease of life could soon be given to paralyzed people as scientists show how effective a brain implant in a primate can be. The implant works by converting thought into electrical impulse signals in the spine so that feeling is restored to the damaged area. It’s this signal that connects the brain to the muscles that cause the issues in paralyzed patients. So, by reconnecting the brain signals to electrodes that are attached to an undamaged part of the spine, the feeling is also restored.
The study involved temporarily paralyzing two monkeys in one of their legs to see if the technique would work, and the results were fantastic! Almost instantly the monkeys were walking around again after receiving the treatment. This is a revolutionary breakthrough in the healthcare world, and this type of treatment could be available for humans in less than ten years. In creating the device, scientists had to be able to decode signals from the motor cortex and turn them into electronic, electrode firing signals that could stimulate the nerves in the spine.
As soon as the device was switched on the monkeys were able to walk whereas up until then they had been limping. The two monkeys that were used during the tests were macaque monkeys, and both had lesions that covered over half the spinal cord affecting their ability to walk on one leg. One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. David Borton, said, “With the system turned on, the animals in our study had nearly normal locomotion.”
The device still needs some further testing, as does have some limitations still. At the moment, the signaling only works in one direction so the brain doesn’t receive any sensations back and is unsure how much weight the legs can take. But, it’s still very exciting nonetheless and brings a promising outlook for the future in this field.