Roughly 6 million people in the United States live with some form of paralysis, most commonly resulting from stroke, spinal cord injury, or multiple sclerosis.1 This paralysis may affect one or both legs, one half of the body, or almost the entire body—both arms, both legs, and the torso. Some people experience temporary paralysis while for others it is permanent. Some also lose feeling in affected limbs.
Since each case of paralysis is slightly different, doctors and patients may have a hard time finding the right therapies. To better serve such varying individual needs, NIBIB-funded researchers led by Hunter Peckham, Ph.D., of Case Western Reserve University, developed a “networked neuroprosthesis system” (NNPS), consisting of multiple, small, implantable modules. Some modules stimulate nerves or paralyzed muscles, some receive and transmit signals from nerves and muscles, and some sense changes in the body’s internal environment. All of the modules are connected by very thin high-speed data cables to each other and to an implantable power source.
Unlike some other types of implantable devices for paralysis, the NNPS can be customized to an individual’s needs and even upgraded without needing to remove the implanted modules. The NNPS can also be configured to restore a broad range of functions, including hand grasp, upper limb movement, abdominal control for maintaining posture, and standing balance and stability to enable patients to transfer themselves from a wheelchair to a bed, for example. Regaining a degree of independence following a diagnosis of paralysis can improve a person’s quality of life and help reduce caregiver burden.
1 “One Degree of Separation: Paralysis and Spinal Cord Injury in the United States.” Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. http://www.christopherreeve.org/site/c.mtKZKgMWKwG/b.5184239/k.58F3/One_Degree_of_Separation.htm