Implant Developed to Reverse Paralysis
A new implant could open up the possibilities for people to walk again who have suffered paralysis after a spinal cord injury. It could also help people suffering with Parkinson’s disease and those living with pain.
The implant, which has been developed by scientists from Swiss university Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), can be applied directly to the spinal cord without causing damage and inflammation. It has been primarily tested in cases of spinal cord injury in paralysed rats. But EPFL says the potential for applying these surface implants is huge, such as in epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and pain management. EPFL scientists are now planning to move towards clinical trials in humans, and to develop their prototype in preparation to bring the product to market.
EPFL says developments of so-called surface implants have reached a roadblock because they cannot be applied long-term to the spinal cord or brain, beneath the nervous system’s protective envelope, otherwise known as the dura mater. This is because when nerve tissues move or stretch, they rub against these rigid devices. After a while, this repeated friction causes inflammation, scar tissue build up, and rejection. The small implant, however, closely imitates the mechanical properties of living tissue, and can simultaneously deliver electric impulses so that the risk of rejection and, or, damage to the spinal cord is drastically reduced.
The implant is placed beneath the dura mater, directly onto the spinal cord. Flexible and stretchy, its elasticity is almost identical to the living tissue surrounding it, which reduces friction and inflammation to a minimum. When implanted into rats, the e-Dura prototype did not cause damage nor rejection, even after two months. EPFL says more rigid traditional implants would have caused significant nerve tissue damage during this period of time. The rats were then able to regain the ability to walk on their own again, just after a few weeks of training.
Stéphanie Lacour, EPFL’s Bertarelli Chair in Neuroprosthetic technology, says: “Our 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.”