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Melbourne Researchers Develop ‘Bionic Spine’ to Aid Paralysed Patients

University of Melbourne - Pursuit

Melbourne medical researchers developed a paper clip-sized machine called “bionic spine” that will help paralysed patients to walk again, The Guardian reported.

The tiny device measuring three centimetres long and a few millimetres wide will allow paralysed patients to control their bionic limbs using their subconscious thought. The device will be implanted into the brain of the patients with spinal cord injuries “to control a robotic limb by harnessing the power of thought,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

“It’s the holy grail for research in bionics,” Professor Terence O’Brien from the Royal Melbourne Hospital told The Sydney Morning Herald. Professor O’Brien leads the project which involves a team of 39 neurologists and biomedical engineers from Melbourne University and Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.

Next year, human trials will be conducted to test the efficiency of the “bionic spine.” Three patients from the Royal Melbourne Hospital will be selected. The Guardian reported that the doctors will make a tiny cut in the neck of the patient and feed a catheter containing the small device. It will pass through the blood vessels leading into the brain until it reaches the top of the motor cortex. The motor cortex is the part of the brain responsible for initiating voluntary muscle movements.

The “bionic spine” contains electrodes that can detect signals from the motor cortex which will send them to another device implanted to the patient’s shoulder. “This device will translate the signals into commands, which will be fed to the bionic limbs via bluetooth to tell them to move,” The Guardian reported. The procedures of the operation are detailed in a paper published in the journal, Nature Biotechnology.

“This is a procedure that Royal Melbourne staff do commonly to remove blood clots. The difference with our device is we have to put it in, and leave it in,” co-principal investigator and biomedical engineer Dr. Nicholas Opie said. The procedure can take a couple of hours.

Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and the US Defense Department funded the project. Both institutions have an interest in the rehabilitation wounded soldiers.

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