RESEARCH MAY HELP THOSE WITH SPINAL CORD INJURIES REGAIN HAND FUNCTION
When a person suffers an injury to his spinal cord, the neural pathways between brain and body can be broken, which, depending on the site of the injury, can cause a loss of function in the arms and legs. This loss of function can severely limit a person’s ability both to perform basic daily tasks and to live independently. New research indicates, however, that doctors may be able to restore some function in those with spinal cord injuries by creating artificial neural pathways to bridge the gap between the brain and body.
In a joint project between the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Japan and the University of Washington in the U.S., researchers studied the effect of using a new type of artificial neural connection in a monkey with a cervical vertebrae injury. The cervical vertebrae are those in the neck, immediately below the skull.
Researchers implanted two artificial pathways in the injured monkey. First, they created a pathway from the brain to the spinal cord, effectively skipping over the damaged vertebra. This connection allowed the monkey to send signals from its brain to its spinal cord. Next, researchers created a pathway from a muscle in one of the monkey’s paralyzed hands to its spinal cord. Working together, these two pathways allowed the monkey to regain volitional control of its paralyzed hand.
Although further research is necessary, the authors of the study are hopeful that their techniques may lead to new treatments for those who have lost function in their limbs due to stroke or spinal cord injury. What makes this technique particularly promising is that it has the potential to restore a patient’s ability to control his limbs by his own will. Unlike other efforts, researchers did not attempt to use an artificial limb as a substitute for a patient’s own body.
In many ways, this research marks a giant leap forward in the treatment of paralysis. Although it remains to be seen whether the tested techniques would help those suffering from total paralysis, they have the potential to help spinal cord injury victims regain some measure of independence. In the coming years, these efforts – along with additional research about how the body controls hands, arms and legs – could greatly improve the lives of countless people.
If someone else’s negligence caused you to suffer a spinal cord injury, contact a personal injury lawyer, who can explain your legal options.