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Australian Scientists Developing Spinal Cord Implant

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Sydney, Australia (AHN) – The creator of the bionic ear is working on an idea involving a spinal cord implant that would be a lifesavior for paraplegics by helping them walk again. The implant is based on a similar principle that allowed the bionic ear to help thousands of people to hear again.

A team of scienetists at the Australian Research Council’s Center are using “smart plastics” in creating an implant that can be surgically inserted into the damaged area of a patient’s spinal cord.

Upon implantation, the patient will receive the radio waves through the skin from a transmitter pack worn outside the body on their back. The waves would allow the release of nerve growth hormones that would trigger off the growth of damaged Spinal nerves to regrow and eventually reconnect with other nerves.

ANI quotes Professor Graeme Clark, 71, as saying, “The ultimate goal is to get people to walk, to feel and to function properly.” He also claims that patients should begin to feel their legs and walk again upon reattachment of the nerves.

Paraplegia is a condition in which the lower part of a person’s body is paralyzed and cannot willfully function. It is usually the result of spinal cord injury or a congenital condition such as spina bifida, but polyneuropathy may also result in paraplegia.

Though tested on animals, the findings are yet to be tested on humans. The scientists claim that the implant would be ready in next five years but they are currently focusing on the ways to encourage nerves to grow far enough along the nerve pathways to reconnect.

“With the bionic ear, 99 percent of the world’s scientists said it wouldn’t work and I was severely criticised. There’s now more of a sense of optimism with the spinal cord project, but the problems are just as complex,” Clark added.

Nidhi Sharma – All Headline News Staff Writer


  1. People close to me are far aware that my children were in an accident recently, leaving one paralyzed from the mid-abdomen down. My son Cody, who is only three years old, received the worse of the injuries. Due too improper seat belt restraints and a non-yielding left turn, complements of his mother, they were struck by a semi and Cody suffered an injury to the T-1 section of his spinal cord. Spinal cord injury’s (SCI) encountered from the impact were hemorrhaging, bleeding, swelling within the spinal cord, and a resulting spinal shock. Spinal shock is a state of transient physiological (rather than anatomical) reflex depression of cord function below the level of injury with associated loss of all sensorimotor functions. These symptoms tend to last several hours to days to weeks and/or even months, until the reflex arcs below the level of the injury begin to function again.

    Normally, if the only damage were spinal shock, he would have recovered reasonably soon. What’s significant about his injury is the fact that there was a preexisting birth defect that was unfounded until his unfortunate accident. Birth defects are divided into malformations, disruptions, deformations, and dysplasias and are classified as major and minor. Major malformations (referred to as Vascular Malformation) do require medical or surgical intervention. These congenital abnormalities or birth defects can be caused by genetic factors, exposure to malformation-causing agents (teratogens), or a combination of both.
    Vascular malformations are localized collections of blood vessels that are abnormal in structure or number, leading to altered blood flow, and are not cancerous (nonneoplastic). Most vascular malformations are present at birth (congenital) but some are not congenital, but caused by trauma, radiation, or other injury to the spinal cord. They are typically classified by size, location, and type of change, with the four most common being capillary telangiectasias, cavernous malformations, venous malformations, and arteriovenous malformations. Vascular malformations are sporadic and solitary in the majority of affected persons, however documented cases of autosomal dominant forms exist as well.

    Cavernous angiomas or cavernomas are uncommon vascular malformations of the central nervous system and spinal involvement is much rarer, especially in pediatric patients. The diagnosis is made with MRI and the patient usually undergo’s surgical treatment. Treatment of malformations is specific according to the placement, size, and the individual. Individuals with severe malformations usually require surgical correction, as was the case with Cody, because of the severity and the combination of both injury and birth defect. An MRI was performed following the accident and the doctors noticed the “pea” size lesion and the distinctive characteristics of old blood that surrounded the abnormality, naming it an Intramedullary Cavernoma. Intramedullary meaning within the bone marrow, within the spinal cord, or within the medulla oblongata. Cavernoma, also known as cavernous malformation, angioma, cavernous hemangioma or capillary hemangioma. They have also been called “angiographically occult or occult arteriovenous malformations.
    A cavernous malformation (CM), is an abnormal cluster of capillaries and venules that periodically bleed and give rise to a popcorn-like lesion in the brain or spinal cord with very thin walls that contains blood of different ages (A venule is a small blood vessel that allows deoxygenated blood to return from the capillary beds to the larger blood vessels called veins). These CMs are made up of fragile arteries and veins that tend to leak small amounts of blood over a period of years. There may be some genetic predisposition in some families for having this type of malformation. CMs can be symptomatic or asymptomatic. Symptoms include stroke, brain hemorrhage, seizure, and headaches and can occur anywhere in the brain or spine. They are best diagnosed by MRI scans and may be seen as an incidental finding on MRIs or they may present with symptoms.

    Before Cody had his accident, there were no symptoms of his birth defect. Hemorrhage and bleeding from the accident instantly affected the spinal cord. Bleeding within the substance of the spinal cord causes the hemorrhage. The blood tends to dissect longitudinal above and below the hemorrhage. The existing birth defect was significant because the injury he received from the accident was at the very same spot his birth defect was located, thus, multiplying his paralysis. If he had not been in a accident, he would have started to develop symptoms or deficits in functioning that correspond to the region of the spine affected by the cavernous malformation.
    In most cases, symptoms that result from hemorrhage and because the spinal cord is a small structure with many sensory and motor fibers crowded near a cavernous malformation, the risks of hemorrhage from a spinal lesion are high, often leading to serious disability or total paralysis. As a result of the severity of his injury, neurosurgeons “Dr. Menezes, a world re-nouned neurosurgeon” had to implicate options to save the child’s life. The only option was surgery, which was conducted immediately and resulted in the removal of all but two to three strands or spinal nerves left to the spinal cord.

    Neurosurgeons who performed the surgery announced the “after” procedure resulted in a severed spinal cord. In other words, a tremendous amount of the spinal cord was removed in order to preserve whatever hope of Cody’s chances were for rehabilitation. His paralysis was deemed complete, which is a medical term used to describe the extent of the surgical intervention defined by the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA). Impairment scales (modified from the Frankel classification) used for classification are as followed: compete, incomplete, and normal. A complete injury means that there is no function below the level of the injury; no sensation and no voluntary movement. Both sides of the body are equally affected. Incomplete have preservation of sensory or motor function below the level of injury, including the lowest sacral segments. Normal, which the sensory and motor functions are normal. A person with an incomplete injury may be able to move one limb more than another, may be able to feel parts of the body that cannot be moved, or may have more functioning on one side of the body than the other. Doctor’s hopes are that some function will return do to the fact that the patient is so young and they don’t know the full extent of Cody’s rehabilitation capabilities.

    Some common health problems which can arise for people with spinal cord injuries are frequent urinary tract infections, kidney stones, muscle spasm, pressure sores from sitting in one position for too long without a correct pressure cushion, and wide and rapid fluctuations in body temperature. At first Cody had troubles regulating his body temperature, but as time passed, that problem diminish and now we are seeing muscle spasms, which are a common symptom’s with paralysis. Antibiotics are generally used to cure urinary tract infections. Some people use cranberry juice and other herbal remedies as a preventative. Some people take medication for muscle spasm, and others with slight spasm’s prefer not to. As you can see, there is a huge variation within this condition, some people experience pain and various complications, and others are relatively healthy with little need for medication. The loss of sensation can mean that pain is at a low level, some people, on the other hand, experience intense pain. One month after Cody’s accident, pain seems to be increasingly noticeable in his lower limbs.

    With the advances in acute treatment of SCI, incomplete injuries are becoming more common. People with spinal cord injuries can lead productive lives. Given the right sort of equipment and adaptations to buildings, people with spinal cord injury can do most things that the rest of the community can do. Sometimes though, they do these things in a slightly different way to the majority of the community. Handicaps result from ignorance not the injuries; many handicaps encountered by people with spinal cord injuries actually result from lack of consideration. Services in the community often do not cater for their needs. Without adequate access arrangements, these services may be inaccessible. There has been some improvement in this area since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act.

    Rehabilitation of a patient with a SCI begins during the acute treatment phase. As the patient’s condition improves, a more extensive rehabilitation program is often begun. The success of rehabilitation depends on many variables, including the following: level and severity of the SCI, type and degree of resulting impairments and disabilities, overall health of the patient, and family support. It is important to focus on maximizing the patient’s capabilities at home and in the community. Positive reinforcement helps recovery by improving self-esteem and promoting independence. The goal of SCI rehabilitation is to help the patient return to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving the overall quality of life – physically, emotionally, and socially.

    My son is now paralyze from the chest down at three years old. If anyone has any suggestions as to whom I can contact or where I might start looking for a possible surgery or successful treatments that could help my son walk again, please contact me.

    Robert Neiswonger

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