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Spine Implant Helps Paralyzed People Exercise 39

An anonymous reader writes "British engineers have created the first muscle-stimulating microchip small enough that several can be implanted in a person's spinal canal. In addition to providing enough stimulation to, say, let users pedal a stationary bicycle, they could also be used for things like stimulating bladder muscles to help overcome incontinence. Their breakthrough is that the devices package everything into one tiny unit. Lasers cut tiny electrodes from platinum foil, which are then folded into a 3D shape that looks like the pages of a book. These pages, in turn, wrap around the nerve roots."
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Spine Implant Helps Paralyzed People Exercise

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  • Exciting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Improv ( 2467 ) <> on Monday November 22, 2010 @07:12PM (#34311788) Homepage Journal

    This is an exciting time to be alive. I wonder what the next 20 years will bring on this front. It'll be interesting if we can someday map all the output of the motor cortex and build wireless links to get around severed spinal nerves.

  • Lifestyle (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <> on Monday November 22, 2010 @07:35PM (#34311996) Homepage Journal

    they could also be used for things like stimulating bladder muscles to help overcome incontinence

    Let's just say that there are other "lifestyle issues" that could be resolved through neural stimulation.

    But I remember that disconnected nerves are said to atrophy or die, so this might work better for new injuries than old ones.

  • Re:Lifestyle (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @07:56PM (#34312140) Homepage

    Here's an idea, which is probably patentable but I'm giving it to the world. Just remember where you read it first ;-)

    If these people can pedal a stationary bicycle then they can exercise the largest muscle group in the body - clearly, good for overall health. A bit bloody boring, though, sitting in the gym pedalling away. So, fit a pedal-powered generator to a conventional power wheelchair. You can lose a lot of the weight of battery, because you can just pedal it. Scoot about on battery inside, with the generator folded down out of the way, then when you go outside fold out the pedals and switch on your implant. You ought to be able to make about the same amount of power as an "able-bodied" person pedalling a conventional bike, with the advantage that you can just keep pedalling when you stop at pedestrian crossings to top off your battery, or run other goodies.

    Someone with a power wheelchair tell me why this wouldn't work. There must be a flaw (apart from the lack of spine implant thing), otherwise surely someone would be doing it. Imagine the difference it would make, having a power wheelchair that isn't restricted to slow, short-range trundling about. Once you've taken the requirement for energy storage out of it (or at least out of the big heavy batteries) you could really make a big difference to people's mobility.

    73s de MM0YEQ

  • Re:Exciting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RsG ( 809189 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @10:21PM (#34313248)

    There's only a few legitimate medical reasons I can see for making implants with wireless capability, and almost all of those could be made "send-only", or could alternatively be designed such that vital functions are isolated from network ones.

    For example, a cardiac implant (pacemaker, artificial heart, whatever) might benefit from a "help, I'm having a heart attack!" mode, sending an alert over a preset network calling for paramedics. But such an option does not require that the implant be vulnerable to being screwed with.

    For anything military, it seems to me you'd want zero RF emissions anyway, if only because there are times when the troops need to operate under radio silence. As far as that goes, I could see some reasons for shielding implants from outside interference completely, so as to make a hypothetical combat cyborg less vulnerable to electronic warfare. Faraday cage perhaps?

    Hell, even a brain-computer interface could be isolated by making the interface port wired, thus requiring physical access to the hypothetical net-head's skull if you're going to do anything nasty, brain-wise (and if you're that close, less exotic methods can do the same job). Or, if it's got to be wireless to minimize the risk of bacterial infection, fit the receiver just below the skin, and make it optical - the transmitter would sit on the surface and beam light through the skin, but signals from a distance would be ineffective, obvious and directional.

  • SCS for Chronic pain (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Talsin ( 164230 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @10:54PM (#34313384)

    I currently have an ANS spinal cord stimulator implanted for chronic pain and cannot imagine life without it. For three years before the implant I was on enough methadone and dilaudid to to not only knock a horse out but take most of the farm along with it. My device is about the size of half a pack of cigarettes and is implanted above my right hip. The cable runs up right between my shoulder blades and enters my spine there.

    The size and placement of the device does not concern me much but something smaller would be welcome. The batteries are rechargeable with an induction antennae and designed to last about 10 years. I can only hope that by the time I have to think about a replacement something like the devices in this article will be available.

    8 surgeries and countless procedures. Drugs of all types with all the side effects and problems that come with them. And in the end a tiny trickle of electric current gives me vastly more relief than anything. I can walk, hold my children and work a normal day again.

VMS must die!