In part one of this series, a new device was explained that could possibly aid people paralyzed in some accident like a motorcycle accident, either partially or completely, once again walk. The new electronic neural bridge was presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting that was held approximately two weeks ago, but the research presented has critics wondering just how real the possibility is that the device could make people walk again.
V. Reggie Edgerton, the device’s creator, said that his research was based on the successful testing of the device in rats. The rats used for the experiment had severed spinal cords and were completely paralyzed from their midsection down. Before the device was installed, they could only move their front two legs, but after it was turned on the rats jumped to life, running on all fours.
Edgerton tested the conscious will to move appendages and how the brain sends an impulse and not really a specifically detailed message. When the rats began to move their front legs, the electronic pulses “fire up the spinal circuitry associated with stepping,” causing the back legs to follow the motion of the front.
Edgerton says that the student involved with his research “has developed a system so that the rat has control. It doesn’t necessarily know that it has control, but when it moves the forelimbs, the hind limbs are going to be turned on.” Future development plans are aimed at creating more control for the user of the device.
Critics, while remaining hopeful that the device could be the solution for paralysis from a spinal cord injury, say that translating the device to humans could be difficult. They note that while a rat uses all four legs to run, a human does not use their arms to propel their legs. Critics of the device would like to see it tested on uneven terrain and be able to support a fully functional and consistent system instead of having to be somehow turned on and off by the user.
Source: MIT Technology Review “Device Helps Paralyzed Rats Walk Again” Lauren Gravitz 12/3/10