A breakthrough that is set to change the lives of stroke victims who are disabled has allowed a paralysed hand to grip again.
During experiments done by scientists, monkeys were able to use their power of thought to move paralysed hands.
This may sound unreal and a bit like science fiction, but researchers at Newcastle University have stated that the treatment may be available to humans within five years.
John Williams, from the Wellcome Trust, which is responsible for funding the project, said this could transform many lives.
The ability to brush teeth or button clothing increases independence, however something like moving from the bed to the wheelchair will make a massive difference. In paralysed persons, the brain attempts to send a signal to the inactive limbs, but the damage in the spinal cord or the brain blocks the signal. Scientists have now discovered a method to pass by the blockage and capture the signal, decoding it on a computer and sending it on its path.
The method was used by monkeys to pull a lever despite being administered a drug which caused temporary paralysis of their hands. Researchers are hoping that being able to decode other signals could make it possible to achieve other movements, such as being able to pinch the fingers together to turn a key.
Researcher, Andrew Jackson, said the same principle could be used in cases where the arms and event the legs are paralysed.
Dr Jackson said the technology would have to be miniaturised for convenience and should be durable enough to allow it to last for several years. He envisages the use of two sets of electrodes, along with a decoding device similar in size to a mobile phone.
The first set of electrodes will be implanted in the brain to allow reception of the signals requesting the movement of the hand. The messages would be sent to the decoding device which would be placed in the chest. Once the messages have been decoded, it will be transmitted to the spinal cord, where the second set of electrodes would prompt the hand muscle movements.
Dr Jackson stated that quite a bit of the technology used for this process is already being utilised separately in patients and been successful.
He said it simply needs to be placed together and believes that within five years an implant will be human-ready. The team is still experiencing technical difficulties, as is normal with all new technology, but they have seen progress.
Eventually it is envisaged that it may be able to send signals back to the patient’s brain, which may allow the patient to experience pressure, heat and cold.
The Stroke Association’s Dr Shamim Quadir said that many stroke victims are partially paralysed and the ability to bridge the gap between the damaged sections of the brain will allow more patients to recover from the effects of strokes.
Image Credit: El Secretario