Australian-made bionic spine to move robotic limbs using the power of thought

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There may be new hope for people with spinal cord injuries, thanks to a device that is being hailed as the “holy grail” in bionics.

Australian scientists are developing a bionic spine that could allow paralyzed patients to move using the power of thought.

The device, a stent-electrode recording array or stentrode, is the size of a small paper clip. Details on the stent were outlined in an article published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Bypassing the need for open brain surgery, the stent is instead inserted into the jugular vein using a catheter. It’s pushed up to a blood vessel in the brain, where it then expands.

Electrodes on the stent record electrical activity from the motor cortex, which controls movement, and translate the electrical activity into commands. The commands are sent to a transmitter embedded just below the chest, which in turn sends them wirelessly to an exoskeleton or a wheelchair, allowing the patient to move.

“It’s the holy grail for research in bionics,” said Terence O'Brien of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, a professor who is overseeing the project, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Scientists tested the stent on sheep for 190 days, and are set to do human trials on three paraplegic patients next year.

The project was three years in the making, and was partly funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, as well as by the U.S. Army, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

RUNDOWN SHOWS:
1. Paraplegic man
2. Bionic spine using a stent-electrode
3. Stent-electrode inserted via catheter to a blood vessel in the brain
4. Electrodes pick up and record activity in the motor cortex
5. Transmitter wirelessly sends commands to bionic limbs
6. Animal trial successful, human trials to begin next year

VOICEOVER (in English):
“Australian scientists are developing a bionic spine that could allow paralyzed patients to move using the power of thought.”

“The device, a stent-electrode recording array or stentrode, is the size of a small paper clip.”

“Once inserted into the jugular vein using a catheter, it’s pushed up to a blood vessel in the brain, where it then expands.”

“Electrodes on the stent record electrical activity from the motor cortex, which controls movement, and translates it into commands.”

“The commands are sent to a transmitter embedded just below the chest, which then sends them wirelessly to an exoskeleton or a wheelchair, allowing the patient to move.”

“Scientists tested the stent on sheep for 190 days, and are set to do human trials on three paraplegic patients next year.”

SOURCES: Sydney Morning Herald, University of Melbourne, Nature Biotechnology, ABC
http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/human-trials-for-australianmade-bionic-spine-to-start-next-year-20160202-gmjqdj.html
https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/moving-with-the-power-of-thought
http://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.3428.epdf?
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-09/device-gives-people-with-spinal-cord-injuries-hope-of-walking/7151174