“Avatar” Inspires New Research for Spinal Cord Treatment

Posted on Mar 15, 2014

If you’ve seen the motion picture Avatar, you’ll know that the alien race, the Na’vi, used the ends of their braids as basic USB ports to communicate and control objects. This same basic premise has recently started to make headway in the research of spinal cord treatments. A study, published in this year’s Nature Communication, suggests that a computer chip could be used to help aid movement in paralyzed bodies by linking the brain to the spinal cord through technology.

How it Works

Ziv Williams, a Harvard neurosurgeon and co-author of the study, claims the concept is a viable treatment option, as the study successfully linked two monkeys together, via chip, allowing one monkey to control the actions and movements of the other.

"What we basically did was create a [link by bypassing neurons in the spinal cord that normally record information from the brain], so we're able to directly record the brain’s neural signals, extract information about what the monkey is intending on doing and then basically stimulate the spinal cord to [produce the movement],” Dr. Williams told reporters.

"For example, if the monkey is intending on moving upwards, we would select specific electrode contacts in the spinal cord to stimulate a movement [upwards].”

Although the experiment worked on simian subjects, the hope is that it may be able to restore some mobility to paralyzed human spinal cord injury (SCI) sufferers.

Treatment Options

The treatment will be intended for SCI victims you suffered from cervical spinal cord trauma, brain stem strokes, or quadriplegia. The implications of the study suggest it may be able to use neuro-recording and transmitting capabilities to aid in naturalistic movements, such as grasping, pointing, or controlling robotic limbs, diminishing the effects of paralysis.

The lawyers at Shevlin Smith are extremely excited to see where this research will lead in the future and hope that it will provide viable treatment options for SCI patients.

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