Scientists at Geneva’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have found a possible solution for individuals paralysed by spinal cord injury.
The e-Dura implant developed by the teams of professors Stephanie Lacour and Gregoire Courtine have managed to get rats walking on their own again using a combination of `electrical and chemical simulation’. The professors say when implanted into the rats, the device caused neither damage nor rejection even two months after.
The e-Dura is designed to be implanted on the surface of the brain or spinal cord. EPFL scientists say the device closely imitates the mechanical properties of living tissue and can simultaneously deliver electric impulses and pharmacological substances. “The risks of rejection and/or damage to the spinal cord have been drastically reduced,” they said.
An EPFL report says the researchers tested the device prototype by “applying their rehabilitation protocol – which combines electrical and chemical stimulation – to paralysed rats.” Not only did the implant prove its bio-compatibility, but it allowed the rats to regain the ability to walk on their own after a few weeks of training. EPFL’s report has also been published in Science magazine in is recent edition.
“Our e-Dura implant can remain for a long period of time on the spinal cord or the cortex, precisely because it has the same mechanical properties as the dura mater itself. This opens up new therapeutic possibilities for patients suffering from neurological trauma or disorders, particularly individuals who have become paralyzed following spinal cord injury,” said Lacour, co-author of the paper, and holder of EPFL’s Bertarelli Chair in Neuroprosthetic Technology.
What about humans? For now the e-Dura implant has been tested on rats. But EPFL scientists say the potential for applying these surface implants is huge – for instance in epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and pain management. The plan is to move towards clinical trials in humans, and to develop their prototype in preparation for commercialisation.
No recent figures are available but data from the Rehabilitation Council of India suggests there are over 2 million patients in India suffering from paralysis. Over 15,000 new cases are added every year.
More significantly, the WHO Global Burden of Disease Study predicts that trauma by road traffic injury will become the third ranked most disabling condition by 2020.
Over 1.2 million died in car accidents in the last decade in India. And over 5.5 million were injured in this period. Road accidents are not the only cause of spinal injuries but there is sufficient real and anecdotal evidence in India to suggest that it is a significant contributor. Moreover, India’s road accident data does not reflect the nature of injuries as such.
The state of Maharashtra’s health department is setting up neurological rehabilitation centres focussing on patients with brain stroke and spinal cord injuries.