Innovation: Development of soft subdural implants
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Spinal cord injury interrupts communication between the brain and the body muscles. Arms or legs can no longer be controlled at will. Direct electrical stimulation on the spine can restore some movements. So far, this was achieved by using epidural stimulators that were meant to treat pain. These stimulators are implanted over the thick protective layer of the spine called dura mater.
The team of Dr. Grégoire Courtine, based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne, developed a flexible and stretchy implant that is placed under the protective layer.
The innovative device supplies power to living tissue. A technology with many advantages:
1) Lower stimulation energy preserves the material (stimulator, wires or electrode).
2) Longer lifetime of the battery pack.
3) Less risk creating damage in the spinal cord tissue.
The electrode implanted directly against the spinal cord can freely stretch and move as the spine itself.
This, together with the decreased intensity of the stimulation makes this new method better and safer than epidural stimulation. Finally, the new stimulator can also deliver chemical compounds directly to the spine to further “awake it”.
This study was supported by Wings for Life. Further studies will have to assess the long-term safety of this type of “invasive” implants.
Source: “Advantages of soft subdural implants for the delivery of electrochemical neuromodulation therapies to the spinal cord”. Capogrosso M, Gandar J, Greiner N, Moraud EM, Wenger N, Shkorbatova P, Мusienko PE, Minev I, Lacour SP, Courtine G Journal of Neural Engineering, January 2018.