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Australian scientists working on ‘bionic spinal cord’

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A “bionic spinal cord” that is likely to provide movements for those who have been paralysed by spinal cord injury or stroke is being developed by Australian researchers.

According to ‘The Courier Mail,’ the project worth USD 2.5 million is funded by the Australian government and the US military.

Under the project, scientists are developing a device for a human quadriplegic patient who would have a robotic limbs controlled by thoughts.

The team of the new MelbourneĀ­Bionics laboratory at Royal Melbourne Hospital is combining the expertise of neurology and engineering to unleash brain signals responsible for movement that are trapped by spinal cord injury.

According to the lead researcher, RMH neurology trainee Tom Oxley, the device worked by decoding brain activity responsible for limb movement, training a computer to recognise those brain signatures and then activating limb movement when these signatures were registered.

“For people with paralysis from spinal cord injury or stroke, if the part of your brain that controls limbs is still working and that signal can’t get through, why can’t we work out a way to get that signal out?” Oxley said.

“If you could feed that signal into a robotic limb, a computer to control a keyboard or wheelchair, or even an exoskeleton (a wearable robot), then you could potentially control any number of devices to enable paralysed patients to have control over their environment again”, Oxley added.

The report said that the final results of the project was five years away and the US military’s research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, was interested in it for its soldiers who have lost or injured limbs.

Oxley said “it was a big race” internationally, with only one other group in the world implanting a device in humans, but the body rejected it after six months.

“There is no treatment for spinal cord injury right now. There is only rehab,” Oxley said.

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