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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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I don't like the idea of wirelessly controlled nerves.

      Remote code injection - scary.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Konsalik ( 1921874 )
        This will become quite a serious subject once we start interfacing our biomedical implants with wider networks arround us such as PANs LANs and maybe even the internet. Worst case would be being able to kill somebody by hacking their devices.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by definate ( 876684 )

          ...such as PANs LANs...

          Is this like PAN's Labyrinth []? If so, that's awesome! I can't wait for eye-hand technology []!

        • Re:Exciting (Score:4, Insightful)

          by gknoy ( 899301 ) <gknoy.anasazisystems@com> on Monday November 22, 2010 @08:19PM (#34312364)

          Oh, come on, it's not like we'd have to worry about people hacking our brains or altering everyone's perceptions in realtime []. Nobody would try that, and by "nobody" I mean "4chan".

          • by gknoy ( 899301 )

            To elaborate: in the short term, if implants get hackable wirelessly, I imagine that professional security goons will need to be implant-free in terms of nerves that affect anything motion, pain, or perception-related (and probably more). We don't want the Secret Service to suddenly keel over when their movement transmitters get jumbled (seizure?) or when their reflex augmentations get shut off (or hacked to do Other Crap).

            If 4chan were to hack things up, I'd imagine they'd just put Guy Fawkes masks on foo

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by RsG ( 809189 )

              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

            • Mr. Stephenson, the doctor will see you now for your firmware upgrade.
      • I don't like the idea of wirelessly controlled nerves.

        Remote code injection - scary.

        Merely a marketing issue - "Make your enemies dance like Michael Flatley!"

      • In the future, RickRolling is going to be a whole new game ....

    • by ae1294 ( 1547521 )

      New wireless virus causes people to crap themselves. News at eleven..

  • by Just_Say_Duhhh ( 1318603 ) on Monday November 22, 2010 @07:14PM (#34311810)

    implant that provides...stimulation. Battery operated? I hope they're rechargeable.

    I just called my broker. This is one IPO I don't want to miss.

  • This is great but how would you power such a device if it is implanted in the spine? I am thinking external powersource on the spine (bonus points if they can make it look like Dead Space)
  • Now here is an entire people FREE from the nagging thought "I should go to the gym today" and these scientists want to take that AWAY from them? Those insensitive bastards!

    • Those insensitive bastards!

      A lump of earth! No wait... Lump of Clay? That's not it... A Stupid person! Closer... A Shoulder of beef?

      Why can't I find the right way to put their insensitivities?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, 2010 @07:34PM (#34311986)

    Avoid the press-release reprinting site, and go for the pictures. []

  • 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Gordonjcp ( 186804 )

      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

      • Or, since this device can control the leg muscles, what about skipping pedaling and turning it into a walking device? Using, you know, legs.

        • Or, since this device can control the leg muscles, what about skipping pedaling and turning it into a walking device? Using, you know, legs.

          I'm guessing that getting walking to work reliably is going to be harder than getting pedalling to work reliably. DO NOT start thinking about how you walk, because you'll confuse yourself and fall over a lot. With that in mind, consider what happens when you walk up to a pedestrian crossing and start to cross. You go from walking along a flattish pavement to walking

          • A wheelchair has the advantage of being simpler to program, yes. But walking using human muscles is merely a programming problem, one that needs some research effort spent on it. It's certainly not a trivial one, yet I guess it's not well-solved only because no one made a serious attempt there. Bipedal robots use a custom set of "muscles" rather than something even similar to human ones.

            • You don't even have to get the walk sequence perfect. A lot of people with partial paralysis walk with walkers or canes. Imperfect, but still better than a chair.

              • by rcp ( 12077 )

                It's debatable that walking is better than a chair, but the able-bodied often blindly assume that walking must be so.

                I'm partially paralysed due to a spinal cord injury, but can walk with a walker and a leg brace. When walking, I can go about 200 metres before my leg nerves/muscles are too weak to continue, and I need to take a break. That 200 metres will take me about 15 minutes - I've had double-leg-amputee Grannies speeding past me. During that time I can't carry anything unless it's very light and I can

        • Walking requires a good deal of non-locomotive muscle action for balance, coordination of which must be recomputed multiple times per second. this makes a "walking computer" a bit bigger than can fit in a spinal implant. An exoskeletal system for paraplegics is actually in clinical trial.

          Electric wheelchairs require amperage on the scale of a car engine. No way in hell a human powered generator is putting out that current.

          I am a quad so I have experience with wheelchairs and locomotive muscle issues.

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          It's one thing to move the legs in a well defined motion when you can strap your feet on to the pedals. It's quite another to add a balance mechanism and control the legs well enough to stay upright. That may one day happen, but I doubt it would be a feature in the 1.0 version.

      • by rcp ( 12077 )

        You asked, so here's why this won't work:

        "fit a pedal-powered generator". Where do those pedals fit? Basically down and in front. Take a look at some recumbent bicycle designs - preferably the more upright ones. Take a look at some wheelchair designs - standard legs out in front hospital-style, and some more active ones like Your pedal chain rings and crank-arms are going to have to fit somewhere very clever indeed to avoid them or the legs sticking out in front in a very awkward manner. Even

        • Where do those pedals fit?

          A one-way clutch would let the pedals fold back to be "alongside" each other - think clock hands at 12 o'clock, as opposed to 6 o'clock when pedalling normally. With the pedals "folded" they would be about right for the normal footrests. A screw jack similar to the ones used to adjust the seat back angle in certain chairs would be able to extend the arm with the "bottom bracket" out to a more comfortable pedalling position. There wouldn't be a chain, and where the chain ring is

  • 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.

    • Hey, I just went through the trial of one those myself. So far, I haven't opted for the permanent version you have because:
      1. The area which needs the parathesia is on the way to my arms, so using it makes it impossible to use them for programming (my job) or music (my dream).
      2. The only one who think it's a good idea is my insurance company. Every doctor who's treated me says, and has proven, that my injury can be corrected with simple PT - though for quite a bit longer than my current insurance policy all

  • This is slashdot! Some of us paralyzed ourselves intentionally just to avoid exercise, you insensitive clod!
    • Just because a remark is totally inappropriate and incredibly tasteless in context doesn't make it funny.
  • I'm not entirely sure if this applies or not, but I wonder how a product like this would work with folks who have ALS []. I know that with that particular condition something goes funny with certain proteins in the spine which restricts communication between the spine and motor neurons (or something like that). The result is that the body degrades and muscles atrophy from the inability to use them. This is the same disease that affects Stephen Hawking. Anyways, I wonder if a chip like this could allow utilizat

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