Researchers in Russia have found a way to allow lab animals with severed spinal cords to walk again using a system that alternates their nerve stimulation based on feedback.

Russian and overseas researchers have created a system for stimulating severed spinal cords, with experiments in rats showing results that are more accurate than existing methods. The new method could be steps away from being applied to humans. Unlike existing methods, it administers electric and chemical impulses: only motion is needed. The new development is based on the idea that commands for body movements can come from the spinal cord, rather than the brain.

“We have developed a method of electrically stimulating the cerebral cortex during paralysis, which is based on controlling muscle group contractions in real time,” Dr. Pavel Musienko, a member of the project, told Gazeta.Ru.

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The research found that while walking, different muscle points activate to replace each other. Using computer models to analyse feedback allowed researchers to create models for when to stimulate the spinal cord. “We created new implant technologies, electrode matrices and neural network stimulation algorithms with fine adjustment based on feedback from limb movements,” Musienko added.  Unlike older projects, which simply stimulated the spinal cord at all times, the new research showed that rats moved much more naturally, when compared in an experiment.

 

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