Category: implants

Electrical Stimulation Can Effectively Restore Movement in Paralyzed Limbs

Shocking Results

Most of us would likely go out of our way to avoid being electrocuted (brave biologists, excluded). However, based on new research published in Physiology, people suffering from paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries (SCI) may soon be seeking out electrical stimulation.

Here’s What People in 1900 Thought the Year 2000 Would Look Like
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After reviewing more than 90 studies, two researchers from the University of Washington concluded that three kinds of stimulation therapies can be used to effectively restore movement in the limbs of paralyzed patients:

  • Transcutaneous stimulation, which delivers stimulation via electrodes placed on the skin
  • Epidural spinal stimulation, which delivers stimulation via electrodes that are placed under the skin but on the outside of the spinal cord
  • Intraspinal stimulation, which delivers stimulation via electrodes implanted directly into the spinal cord

Each type of treatment had a unique impact on patients. For example, the first improved muscle tightness and stepping ability, while the second improved hand function. According to the researchers, all three treatments were most likely to be effective when combined with physical therapy and medications that help the spinal cord generate new neural pathways.

The Path to Recovery

More than a quarter of a million people in the U.S. alone are affected by paralysis due to SCI, and approximately 17,000 new cases emerge each year.

These injuries can affect far more than a person’s ability to walk or move their limbs. SCI sufferers can be unable to control their bladder, have problems regulating their temperature, or experience other issues with autonomic functions that severely limit their ability to function in everyday life.

As the study’s authors note, electrical simulation is not a cure for paralysis. However, it’s also just one of the many paralysis treatments currently being researched.

Synthetic spinal cords, magnetic brain stimulationmind-controlled exoskeletons, or any other one of these promising endeavors could lead us to a world in which paralysis is a thing of the past.

The post Electrical Stimulation Can Effectively Restore Movement in Paralyzed Limbs appeared first on Futurism.

Researchers Develop Bendable Batteries That Could Make Implants and Wearables Safer

Flexible and Safe

Leaking batteries can corrode the interiors of electronics, sometimes causing irreparable damage. Even worse, they can harm people, and given the increasing prevalence of wearable technology and implantable devices, such a hazard is troublesome.

To avoid this issue altogether, researchers from China’s Fudan University have developed a new kind of battery that doesn’t include the chemicals that can make traditional batteries dangerous. As a bonus, their designs are also thin and flexible.

“Current batteries like the lithium-ion ones used in medical implants generally come in rigid shapes,” Yonggang Wang, one of the researchers from Fudan, said in a press release. “Additionally, most of the reported flexible batteries are based on flammable organic or corrosive electrolytes, which suffer from safety hazards and poor biocompatibility for wearable devices, let alone implantable ones.”

implantable battery wearable technology implants flexible battery
Image credit: Zhaowei Guo, et. al.

In a study recently published in Chem, the researchers present their two flexible design alternatives, neither of which requires the electrolytes used in current batteries. Instead, these batteries use one of two bio-compatible sodium-based liquids: a normal saline solution or a cell culture medium that contains amino acids, sugars, and vitamins.

The first design is a “2D” belt made of thin electrode films over a steel strand mesh. The other features a carbon nanotube fiber weave with nanoparticle electrodes embedded on it. According to the researchers, both designs “showed excellent performance,” even faring better than most existing lithium-ion batteries used in wearable electronics in terms of how much energy they could hold and the power they could produce.

Designed for Implants and More?

The thinness and flexibility of these batteries make them ideal for implants, the researchers noted, and they could be hugely beneficial to the development of brain-computer interfaces, which are, obviously, implanted into one of the most sensitive organs inside the human body.

The Evolution of Brain-Computer Interfaces [INFOGRAPHIC]
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The researchers also stumbled upon an unexpected potential use for their second battery design. The battery’s carbon nanotube backbone caused the conversion of dissolved oxygen into hydroxide ions to accelerate. This isn’t good for the battery itself, the researchers said, but it could prove beneficial for cancer starvation therapy.

“We can implant these fiber-shaped electrodes into the human body to consume essential oxygen, especially for areas that are difficult for injectable drugs to reach,” Wang explained in the press release. “Deoxygenation might even wipe out cancerous cells or pathogenic bacteria since they are very sensitive to changes in living environment pH.”

Of course, as this wasn’t the object of the research, much more in-depth studies would be required to validate this effect. Until then, it remains largely theoretical.

The batteries themselves, though, show a great deal of promise for their intended use. The next step is to make sure they would be able to meet the power needs of today’s wearables and implants, as well as those that are still to come.

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Scientists Move One Step Closer To “Curing” Diabetes Using First-Ever Stem Cell Implant

No More Injections

The World Health Organization reports that more than 422 million people worldwide are living with diabetes, a condition that can take two forms. In the first, the body’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas, preventing the organ from producing enough insulin [type 1 diabetes (T1D)]. In the second, the body doesn’t know how to use the insulin that is produced [type 2 diabetes (TD2)].

T1D accounts for roughly 10 percent of diabetes cases, and unlike T2D, which can often be reversed through lifestyle changes such as weight loss or increased exercise, scientists have yet to figure out how to prevent or cure T1D.

Right now, T1D is best managed by balancing insulin doses, but this method can be problematic in high-risk cases, taking time to act. Moreover, patients with hypoglycemia (low glucose) unawareness may not notice when their blood sugar drops dangerously low. Thankfully, researchers all over the world are hard at work looking for a cure that will free T1D patients from their dependence on insulin injections and from risky situations when their levels drop low.

Now, one group may have found such a cure.

Just last week, California-based company ViaCyte began trials involving two T1D patients who were implanted with the company’s PEC-Direct device.

Each of these credit card-sized implants carries cells built from stem cells. These cells are designed to mature inside the human body into the specialized pancreas cells the immune system destroys in those with T1D. The implant is placed just below the skin and releases insulin whenever necessary.

“Patients with high-risk type 1 diabetes complications, such as hypoglycemia unawareness, are at constant risk of life-threatening low blood glucose,” clinical trial investigator Jeremy Pettus from University of California, San Diego, said in a ViaCyte press release. “The PEC-Direct islet cell replacement therapy is designed to help patients with the most urgent medical need.”

“There are limited treatment options for patients with high-risk type 1 diabetes to manage life-threatening hypoglycemic episodes,” added ViaCyte president and CEO Paul Laikind. “We believe that the PEC-Direct product candidate has the potential to transform the lives of these patients.”

Insulin Independence

Truly, freeing T1D patients from the need for constant insulin shots hasn’t been an easy task. Researchers in Finland have been looking into it for 25 years and only recently did they manage to develop a vaccine for type 1 diabetes — that breakthrough will go to clinical trials by 2018. ViaCyte’s device is another promising discovery.

Prior to last week’s clinical trial, PEC-Direct implants using smaller amounts of stem cells were tested in 19 diabetes patients. Although these did mature into the desired islet cells, the limited number wasn’t designed to treat the condition. The PEC-Direct implants received by the two patients last week contain more cells. The hope is that three months from now, when the cells have matured, they’ll be able to take the place of injections by releasing insulin automatically when needed.

If it does work, the only thing T1D patients will have to do is take immunosuppressant drugs to make sure their bodies don’t reject the new cells. That’s a small price to pay to be freed of daily injections. As James Shapiro at the University of Alberta, Canada, told New Scientist, “A limitless source of human insulin-producing cells would be a major step forward on the journey to a potential cure for diabetes.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated. A previous version implied that individuals should take insulin when blood sugar levels are low. This has been updated to note that individuals need insulin when sugar levels are high. 

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A New Vision-Restoring Brain Implant Could Give Sight to the Blind

Resting on the Brain

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are the future of brain implant technologies and prosthetics. Hacking the brain, however, hasn’t been easy. For one, electrodes that are implanted in the brain become less effective over time, as the scar tissue that forms around them degrades their connections to brain cells.

That, it would seem, is about to change as researchers from Harvard Medical School have been working with a new kind of implant that isn’t affected by scar tissue. Instead of penetrating the organ, these new electrodes are placed beneath the skull to rest on the surface of an animal’s brain, and they use powerful magnetic fields instead of electrodes like their predecessors to induce brain activity.

Their design has already been tested on mice by researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital, who published their results in the journal Science Advances last December. Next week, testing will begin on monkeys using an implant designed to restore sight in the blind. “At the end of that, we hope to have monkeys be able to navigate a maze just by perceiving light and dark or basic geometric patterns,” explained Bernard Casse, a researcher at the Xerox-PARC research institute, which invented the new implant design as part of BRAIN initiative under President Obama.

Image credits: Pixabay
Image credits: Pixabay

Improved Brain Technologies

The vision-restoring implant will work by stimulating the visual cortex of the monkeys, as it tries to recreate the activity usually triggered by neuron signals from the eyes. The researchers think this will create the sensation of seeing even without actual input from the eyes. The goal is to be able to use the implant to translate signals from a camera into brain activity. It’s a unique approach to treating blindness, targeting the brain directly instead of the eyes.


Researchers see the value of being able to directly stimulate the brain. Other studies have shown how effective it could be, as in the case of a paralyzed Brazilian man that recovered his sense of touch thanks to a brain implant or the woman with ALS who regained her capacity to communicate thanks to a BCI. While those studies yielded very promising results, they could be only temporary due to the scar tissue problems with traditional electrodes. This new magnetic model could make them permanent.

University of California, San Diego associate professor Todd Coleman thinks this new approach is promising, and he sees other uses for the technology as well. “There could be very nice applications in other parts of the body,” he told MIT Technology Review. For instance, the new implants could be used to regulate activity in the more than 100 million neurons involved in the digestive system to help people with bowel movement troubles. Additionally, Coleman is interested in exploring how the tech could be used on the vagus nerve found in the chest to control PTSD. If all goes well, these monkey trials will be the next step on the path to human testing.

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