Neue Hoffnung für Querschnittsgelähmte

Press Release

Hope for paraplegics

Archive: Press Release 05/14/2014

For people with severe spinal cord injury, there are no chance of recovery. They remain confined to a wheelchair. A new treatment method could change in the future: The spinal cord stimulation with electronic pulses to help those affected to learn to walk again. From 3 to 5 June, Fraunhofer researchers at the fair Sensor + Test in Nuremberg implantable microelectrode probes from preclinical development (Hall 12, Stand 12-537).

The implantable microelectrode probes are paper thin and flexible.
The implantable microelectrode probes are paper thin and flexible.
© Fraunhofer IMM

Thomas T. was just 25 years old when a serious motorcycle accident changed his life from one moment to the other. Diagnosis of doctors: paraplegia. The spinal cord was damaged in the lumbar region. Since then, the young man sitting in a wheelchair. Diagnosis paraplegia was a shock, only after months of rehabilitation time Thomas T. has learned to live with it. Because of a cure does not exist for victims. There are no effective treatment to improve the motor performance of hard paralyzed people.

A consortium of European research institutions and companies want to make those affected in the future literally back legs. In the EU project NEUWalk, which is funded with about nine million euros, researchers are studying a new method to restore motor function after severe spinal cord injuries. The method relies on the electrical stimulation of the nerves in the spinal cord. „The suggestion must be below the injury site since the neurons there has not obtained adequate information more from the brain,“ explains Dr. Peter Detemple, head of department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology, Division Microtechnology Mainz IMM and project coordinator of NEUWalk. For this, and his team develop Detemple flexible, paper-thin microelectrodes probes that are implanted in the spinal canal in the spinal cord. This microprocessor-controlled, multi-channel electrode arrays irritate the nerves with electronic pulses which are triggered by a likewise implanted neurostimulator. „The different electrodes in the array are in the area of ​​the nerve roots, which are responsible for the movement functions. They must be driven into certain temporal sequences with pulse patterns to model movement and to support the motor, „says Detemple.

In tests with rats whose spinal cord was not completely severed, it is the consortium of researchers have already succeeded. By spinal cord stimulation in combination with a drug cocktail and a Rehabilitation Training the animals could perform not only walking movements, but also race, climb steps and overcome obstacles. „We were able to trigger movements by certain pulse sequences on different electrodes on the spinal cord we einspeisten“ so Detemple. The researcher and his colleagues believe it is possible to help people back on their feet. „We hope to be able to transfer the results of our experiments on animals to humans. Of course, the spinal cord injured person can not drive without restrictions or sports can travel long distances. , The first thing that they attain a certain independence and move, for example in their homes and provide or can travel short distances without assistance, „says Detemple.

This summer the NEUWalk researchers want to test your system in two patients who are not completely paraplegic. It will still take a limited transmission of impulses between the brain and legs. To this end, the scientists are currently developing customized implants. „But even if the experiments with the two patients were successful, it will still take years before the system is ready for the market. Only the effectiveness of the methodology in clinical trials must be confirmed on a larger number of patients, „says Detemple.

Electrical spinal cord stimulation to relieve Parkinson’s symptoms

Even Parkinson’s patients could benefit from the neuroprostheses. The most common symptoms of the disease are tremor, a strong muscle tremors and a diffracted small-step gait, which greatly restricts the mobility of the patient. The neuropathy is usually previously treated with dopamine agonists – drugs with similar chemical dopamine, which, however, often have strong side effects in prolonged intake. In the advanced stage, deep brain stimulation is now used often. This implanting physicians in an elaborate operation electrodes in certain areas of the brain, there to stimulate the activity of the nerve cells or inhibit. In project NEUWalk the researchers rely on the electrical spinal cord stimulation, a less dangerous procedure that should alleviate Parkinson’s symptoms but also. „Preliminary experiments in animal models have shown promising results,“ says Detemple.

At the exhibition Sensor + Test 2014 in Nuremberg show the researchers in Mainz prototypes of their neuroprostheses. These include implantable micro-electrode probes as well as rigid multi-channel probes, which are suitable for recording electrophysiological signals and for the stimulation of neural structures.
Source: FHI / SE