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Medicine Technology

Fighting Paralysis With Electricity 56

Posted by samzenpus
from the jolt-to-the-system dept.
the_newsbeagle writes "In spinal cord injuries, the brain's commands can't reach the lower body — so in a ground-breaking experiment at the University of Louisville, researchers are providing artificial commands via electrodes implanted in the spine. The first paralyzed people to try out the tech have already been able to stand on their own, and have regained some bowel and sexual function. A video that accompanies the article also shows paralyzed rats that were able to walk again with this kind of electrical stimulation."
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Fighting Paralysis With Electricity

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 24, 2013 @06:12PM (#45229769)
    really
    • by Anonymous Coward

      "In spinal cord injuries, the brain's commands can't reach the lower body — so in a ground-breaking experiment at the University of Louisville, researchers are providing artificial commands via electrodes implanted in the spine. The first paralyzed people to try out the tech have already been able to stand on their own, and have regained some bowel and sexual function.

      I pray that somewhere out there, a poor paralyzed Japanese girl is finally getting this technology.

      You know, just so that after it's implanted, she can exclaim, "Onii-chan, my hips are moving on their own!"

      • Actually, the whole thing to me sounds more like Plan 9 from Outer Space. Electrodes? Check. Controlling people? Check. Now just find a suitable paralyzed lookalike of Vampira, and it will all be just spiffy.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    When I use my stun gun it causes temporary paralysis most of the time. But if I use it on some drunk who's passed out it seems to encourage movement.

    Science is confusing and electricity is magic.

  • by bobbied (2522392) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @06:16PM (#45229797)

    In crude ways we've been able to do this for decades. I've seen video a guy who was unable to move from the chest down climb stairs using his own legs. It was from back in the 80's. Wasn't capable of any kind of fine motor control and it would be easy to knock him over, but between the braces and the electrodes that where implanted it worked. I guess they are able to move up the circuit to the spine and implant electrodes there? So? How's this help very much?

    Now if you can transfer signals from above the damaged spine to below, THAT would be something to see.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What's new is the use of machine-learning software to figure out the combination of inputs much faster than could ever be done with trial and error, allowing for far more fine-grained signaling.

      They've also figured out that you don't need to blast high currents down the nerves to get the muscles to move and that that in fact hinders the ability of the spine to manage feedback and autonomous control on its own.

      Captcha: Instruct

    • by sjames (1099) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @11:52PM (#45231265) Homepage

      The spinal cord is much more than a mere conduit. By moving the stimulation up, you get the advantage of using the low level processing ability of the spinal cord. That means automatic compensation for shifting weight. For example, if someone puts something in your outstretched hand, the added tension in the tendons signals the spinal cord to increase muscle contraction to compensate so your hand doesn't drop. It seems to also have more complex functions to coordinate muscle groups.

      In addition, the spinal cord has access to the sensory nerves. The patient can't feel foot pressure, but the spinal cord can process it in the act of stepping.

    • by snizzitch (976516)
      Why would you want to knock the guy over?
  • We used to do this with 9V batteries in High School Biology. Of course we used dead frogs but it was the same thing. ...

  • Great! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Jmc23 (2353706) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @06:25PM (#45229841) Journal
    Another couple of decades and they'll 'discover' that electrical stimulation of nerve pathways with acupuncture needles can 'restore' nerve pathways to functionning.

    I'm certainly glad I can urinate easily and stand on my right leg without electrodes.

    • Long John Silver I presume?
    • That's already been known since like the '80s. My grandfather has spinal damage from both an accident and polio. He's been using a electrostimulation machine for decades, slowly increasing/restoring function in his legs.

      The trick would be something that works about 10X faster so you could 'finish' in a couple decades rather than it being essentially for life....

      • by Jmc23 (2353706)
        Add some marijuana to the mix. Some cbd's are analagous to the chemicals that precede nerve formation, sort of like scouts, plus all the nerve protection factors. Then add some yoga or tai chi, both teach you where your nerves are, where they connect to, and how to 'follow' them with your inner senses. Visualization is actually very important for nerve regeneration. They also both help with correcting posture. Anybody who has had any paralysis will develop muscular compensations elsewhere, so one has t
        • by Firethorn (177587)

          First, I'm not going to intrude into grandpa's medical situation, and I'm certainly not going to recommend a currently illegal drug on the basis of an internet post.

          Second, well, typical Yoga and Tai Chi are far beyond my grandfather's ability. Merely standing is something of a challange for him while wearing supports.

          Maybe if this stuff had been available 40+ years ago when he was injured...

          • by Jmc23 (2353706)
            You don't need to be able to stand to do yoga or taichi. It is not the physical gymnastics the USA has led everybody to believe.

            And if you don't care enough about your grandpa to research a bit or even suggest he research a bit...

            • by Firethorn (177587)

              And if you don't care enough about your grandpa to research a bit or even suggest he research a bit...

              Oh, I care. I've done a lot of research, actually. I just know that Gramps is already being seen by a number of competent doctors(and he's being taken care of by his daughter that is a nurse) and I'm nowhere near enough(8 time zones away) to make an adequate judgement at this time. I also know my grandfather(obstinate), the local law enforcement situation(not favorable), etc... It's a balancing act. I'm not going to recommend some action without at least a peer-reviewed study that comes close, and conv

              • by Jmc23 (2353706)
                Yeah, unfortunately probably won't see a study like that for a while as we still suffer the FUD of 80 years ago. Also, it's not the THC that matters, it's the CBD's. That's why the US government 'patented' CBD's but really only allows medical studies to be done on what is basically hemp sprayed with THC (yay war on drugs!).

                If your grandpa's damage was done by polio itself it might also respond differently than the damage done by the polio vaccine (very small percentage, yay! I won something) which is usua

  • Oblig. (Score:5, Funny)

    by SeaFox (739806) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @06:30PM (#45229875)

    The first paralyzed people to try out the tech have already been able to stand on their own, and have regained some bowel and sexual function.

    Gives new meaning to the phrase "getting turned on".

  • Oblig XKCD (Score:5, Funny)

    by kybur (1002682) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @06:31PM (#45229879)
  • by themushroom (197365) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @06:41PM (#45229917) Homepage

    I recall when I was in high school watching video of people with similar setups, where electrodes were going to the muscles or spine, and little jolts would make the legs move. It was very jerky and reportedly very draining to the person (since every motion was a sudden thrust).

  • To the tip of my penis.
  • by acidradio (659704) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @08:11PM (#45230371)

    Kind of off-topic but I love seeing stuff like this hit the news. I do IT work at Medtronic. Nothing related to the devices but rather supporting the software that the engineers, scientists, physicians, designers and factory workers use to make these devices. Its an interesting feeling that in the end my work is a little tiny piece of making stuff like this happen. Morally and emotionally I feel great going to a job at a company like this. Here a device like this is helping this man stand and eventually walk again! My prior jobs were all IT jobs in really dismal, "selfish" industries - banking, credit cards, health insurance. Nothing I did helped make the world a better place. The work I did made a CEO richer and that was about it. The companies were built on "How can we cheapen this so we make more money on it." The reason I mention this is I see a lot of IT people who go to their job and feel something missing or don't feel like they contribute to the greater good. I felt that same way for a long time. Then by luck I got in there. I think a lot of us have a moral, emotional, spiritual (or all of the above) compass and this is the kind of stuff that fulfills that.

    • I had the same feeling back when I was an IT guy (and the only one actually) at a K-12 school district. It was very fulfilling to know I was doing my part in someone's education. And you're right, those are the best jobs to have.

      That said, this really is very incredible stuff. There have been versions of things like this before, but that they can get more fine control now is amazing. And that other "normal" body functions come as a "side effect" is great! I'm interested to see how this evolves over
    • by crywalt (2426042)
      That guy who is trying to convince you that banks really help people? To heck with him. I worked for a major bank for about a year in IT. You know what I did? Built mini-websites to facilitate wealthy people's getting free stuff. Seriously. In order to keep these multi-million-dollar clients, the bank would have to give them freebies -- tickets to sporting events and such -- the new stadiums for the Giants, the Yankees, and the Mets were all built, not because the old facilities were too small or worn
    • by Common Joe (2807741) on Friday October 25, 2013 @01:26AM (#45231569) Journal

      Glad you work at Medtronic. Glad I saw this article.

      My best friend became a paraplegic last year. He's my age so it really struck home. I was thrilled when he asked me last weekend to write him a program for Android to help out with his daily habits. That program will have more meaning to me than any other program I've written. I was so excited after talking with him that I woke up at 3 AM the next morning and wrote semi-formal requirements for the program that he could approve. It may take me a while to successfully squeeze in the required time to learn Android programming (I've never done it before) and the time to write and debug the actual program, but I'm determined to do it. (What he wants requires a little tricky programming, but it's simple enough. And yes, of course it will be open source and I'll publish the code.)

      Keep up the good work. I'm hoping to work for a company that gives me fulfillment soon too. (It's a goal.)

    • I do IT work at Medtronic... My prior jobs were all IT jobs in really dismal, "selfish" industries - banking, credit cards, health insurance. Nothing I did helped make the world a better place.The work I did made a CEO richer and that was about it. The companies were built on "How can we cheapen this so we make more money on it."

      http://www.startribune.com/business/208307771.html [startribune.com]

      • by Aerokii (1001189)
        I was offered a contract to work as a verification engineer for them for 6 weeks, starting about 6 weeks before the layoff announcement. They told me at the time that if "you work really hard and show that you know what you're doing, we'll fight to keep you on full time!"

        Utter load of crap. Thankfully another company in the area offered me full time work, so I was able to avoid the inevitable let down I would have encountered. That being said, I still respect what Medtronic does, and the people I spoke w
  • So I have to ask the obvious, but why can't they just run a patch chord between the ends of the nerve fibres that are cut? The question is so obvious that I would be surprised if it hasn't already been tried, but I have never heard of it. Instead of using a device to provide the 'high level instructions', can't they just use some really fine conductor to join up the cut nerves from the brain, and allow our built in controller at the top of our spine to run (and feel) things. i.e. our brain. I'm curious why
  • You are sitting in front of your computer reading this by using electricity, and you are effectively paralyzed from the hips down.
  • It looks like that mouse want to run on his 4 legs and they are forcefully running him on 2 lges.
  • Anyone who has played Pokemon knows that Electric attacks *cause* paralysis!
  • For anyone who is wondering what is taking so long with curing paralysis, one complication is that mouse and rat models aren't super great. Their spinal cords recover to some degree on their own. Biologists are limited to measuring increased recovery rates [nih.gov]. Obviously, a spinal cord that is healing itself is quite different from a spinal cord which is not. Young children seem to have some capacity to regenerate neurons of the spinal cord (though my main source there is a friend who worked on spinal cord

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