There is some amazing news coming from researchers at the University College London. They have developed a new type of muscle stimulator implant that could allow people with paraplegia to exercise their paralyzed leg muscles.
The device is small enough so that it can actually be implanted directly into the spinal canal where it would stimulate more muscle groups than is currently possible with existing technology. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) project is being led by Professor Andreas Demosthenous . It includes engineers from Freiburg University and the Tyndall Institute in Cork.
Electrical stimulation of leg muscles is usually done by attaching electrodes to the outside of the legs and then connecting the electrodes to an external stimulator. This latest research is the first to combine the electrodes and muscle stimulator in one unit so that more nerves can be stimulated and better function achieved.
“Because a number of these devices can be implanted into the spinal canal”, said Professor Demosthenous, “Stimulation of more muscle groups means users can perform enough movement to carry out controlled exercise such as cycling or rowing.”
Other potential applications of these devices can also be for other healing functions such as stimulating bladder muscles to help overcome incontinence and stimulating nerves to improve bowel capacity and suppress spasms.
The research team has enhanced this therapy by micro-packaging everything into one tiny unit. The latest laser processing technology has been used to cut tiny electrodes from platinum foil. These are then folded into a 3D shape (which looks like the pages of a book, earning the device the name of the Active Book). The pages close in around the nerve roots. They are micro-welded to a silicon chip which is hermetically sealed to protect against water penetration, which can lead to corrosion of the electronics.
The exciting innovation has been welcomed by Universities and Science Minister David Willetts, who said: “The Active Book is a good example of how UK scientists and engineers are translating research into innovations that deliver real benefits for society. This tiny implant has the potential to make a real difference to the lives and long-term health of people with paraplegia in the UK and around the world.”