We talked last week how helmets can help protect the brain from serious injury during an accident, but traumatic brain injuries are not the only injury caused. Spinal cord injuries often occur in motorcycle accidents when the driver is thrown from the small vehicle. While a helmet may protect the brain, it does not protect the neck, and motorcycle accidents can be a major cause of partial or complete paralysis.
Medical researchers have been studying the nerve impulses and connections in the spinal cord for years in an attempt to cure paralysis. V. Reggie Edgerton with the University of California presented a new device at the Society for Neuroscience meeting that makes the cure seem more like a real possibility than a hope for the future.
The device is an electronic bridge that steps away from the current muscle stimulation devices used to enable a small amount of standing or walking. The device uses the neural pathways that are either blocked or severed in a spinal cord injury. Edgerton says that the neural pathways really never disappear, and he has used this theory to create the electronic bridge that allows the neural impulses to jump across the severed pathway.
“The signal coming down from the brain isn’t to activate this muscle and then this muscle and then this muscle,” Edgerton explained at the meeting. “It’s to activate a program that’s built into the circuitry. A message comes down from the brain that says step. The spinal cord knows what stepping is; it just has to be told to do that.”
Source: MIT Technology Review “Device Helps Paralyzed Rats Walk Again” Lauren Gravitz 12/3/10