A stretchy, rubber band-like implant could mean the difference someday between remaining paralyzed or walking again for patients suffering from spinal cord injuries.
According to Fast Company, a team of researchers at EPFL — the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland — have developed a flexible device that can attach to the damaged spinal cord and transmit signals to the brain in order to initiate movement in the rest of the body.
Referred to as e-Dura since it is applied directly beneath the dura mater (the layer protecting the nervous system), the implant can mimic living nervous tissue by using a combination of electrical and chemical stimulation.
It’s made of a flexible silicon substrate and covered with gold electric conductors that can be stretched and pulled, according to the EPFL news site. Such elasticity reduces inflammation caused by friction, scar tissue buildup, or rejection of the implant — all of which have been common issues with traditional implants in the past.
Furthermore, the implant contains a fluidic microchannel for delivering neurotransmitters that can reactivate nerve cells beneath the damaged tissue.
The device has already been proven to work on paralyzed rats, whose ability to walk was restored along with some help from robotic support and rehabilitation training.
“The results we have attained with the animal experimentation showed we may have solved one of the biggest challenges for the next generation of surface electrode implants,” said professor Stéphanie Lacour — who was part of the team that developed e-Dura — in an EPFL video. “We now intend to push forward the technology to its clinical therapies and bring forward our innovation to the market.”
Learn more about e-Dura in the video below:
Top photo courtesy of EPFL