Stimulation technique holds new promise for spinal cord injuries

An innovative method to stimulate the spinal cord directly could offer new hope to control bladder, bowel, sexual function, and leg movement in people with spinal cord injuries.

Warren Grill, a senior research associate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University, recently received almost $1 million from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

He will work with Musa Haxhiu, CWRU professor of medicine, and other researchers from the Cleveland FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) Center to assess the feasibility of neural prostheses based on microstimulation inside of the spinal cord.

The Cleveland FES Center is a consortium of CWRU, the Cleveland VA Medical Center, and the MetroHealth Medical Center. Neural prostheses technology uses electrical activation of the nervous system to restore lost function in persons with neurological impairment.

Usually with FES technology, minute levels of electrical current are delivered to nerves in paralyzed muscles through electrodes placed on or near them.

Grill is investigating intraspinal microstimulation, in which electrodes are placed inside the spinal cord, which has matter that is similar to the brain in its structure and consistency. He believes this kind of neural prosthesis could improve the health and independence of people with quadriplegia (paralysis of the arms and legs) and paraplegia (paralysis of the legs).

Most current neural prosthetic systems either use muscle-based electrodes that are placed on or in the skeletal muscle and activate the nerve as it enters the muscle, or they employ nerve-based electrodes that are placed on or around the peripheral nerve, Grill explained.

Both of these approaches drive the last-order neuron, a connection between the cells and the muscle that when stimulated causes a certain action. The last-order neuron is a one-synapse link, Grill said. It is the last neuron

Contact: Kathleen McDermott
Case Western Reserve University

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