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Spinal Implant May Help Paralyzed Walk Again

Jan 09, 2015 05:16 PM EST

A newly developed type of spinal implant may give hope for paralyzed patients everywhere and one day help them to walk again, according to new research.

Both flexible and stretchy, the e-Dura implant - developed by scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) - has greatly reduced the risks of rejection and/or damages to the spinal cord that conventional "surface implants" pose. Typical implants can't be installed for long periods of time on the spinal cord without causing any tissue damage, for the constant friction leads to inflammation and scar tissue buildup. But in this case, the new method causes neither damage nor rejection, even after two months.

So far, researchers have successfully managed to get rats walking on their own again using e-Dura, which combines electrical and chemical stimulation, though it's hard to say when the same can be done in humans.

"Our e-Dura implant can remain for a long period of time on the spinal cord or the cortex, precisely because it has the same mechanical properties as the dura mater itself. This opens up new therapeutic possibilities for patients suffering from neurological trauma or disorders, particularly individuals who have become paralyzed following spinal cord injury," co-author Stéphanie Lacour, who helped with the design, said in a statement.

Specifically, e-Dura can potentially be useful for patients with epilepsy or Parkinson's disease.

The way e-Dura works is it's placed beneath the dura mater - or the nervous system's protective envelope - directly onto the spinal cord. It closely imitates the mechanical properties of living tissue, ensuring long-term use. The key to its tissue-like consistency is the materials that were used - silicon and platinum microbeads, a silicon substrate covered with cracked gold electric conducting tracks, and a fluidic microchannel.

"It's the first neuronal surface implant designed from the start for long-term application," added Grégoire Courtine, co-author and co-developer.

So far Courtine and Lacour have only tested the prototype in paralyzed rats, but they soon plan to move on to human trials, which can open up new doors.

The design is described further in the journal Science.

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