Australian scientists develop bionic spine for paralysed patients

Melbourne, Feb 9 (IANS) Australian scientists have developed a revolutionary “bionic spine” which they believe will enable paralysed patients to walk again, the media reported.

The new device, developed by scientists in Melbourne, is the size of a paper clip and works by allowing patients with spinal injuries to control a robotic limb, an exoskeleton of sorts, just by thinking, Xinhua news agency reported.

“What cochlear implants have done for hearing we’re trying to do for mobility,” Nicholas Opie, co-principal investigator of the project, said on Tuesday.

The first human trials of the device will begin next year in patients with lower-limb paralysis first as they have the most to gain from the device.

The device will be placed at the top of the motor cortex, the part of the brain which controls voluntary muscle movement, via a catheter inserted in the jugular vein in the neck.

The electrodes on the outside of the bionic spine will detect signals from the motor cortex and send them to a device implanted in the patient’s shoulder which will translate signals into commands telling the bionic limbs to move.

Inserting the device through a vein means patients will avoid brain surgery, reducing any risks involved in the procedure as well as cutting the time required in hospital with the technique requiring only a day procedure.

Professor Terrence O’Brien of the Royal Melbourne Hospital is overseeing the project made up of 39 neurologists and biomedical engineers from the hospital, Melbourne University and the Howard Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.

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