In the Biblical stories recorded in the Gospels, Jesus healed several people who were paralyzed. Similar stories are found in the writings and traditions of several other religions as well. So far though, even with some of the amazing advances in modern medicine, healing those who are paralyzed because of spinal or brain injuries has proven to be somewhere between exceptionally difficult and impossible. Now new research that has been conducted in Switzerland may be about to help the paralyzed walk again.
Spinal implants have traditionally created additional problems for the patients who had them implanted. The implants, which have been made of flexible plastic, have tended to irritate nearby tissue and cause inflammation. The body then frequently rejects the traditional implants.
In this study, the Swiss researchers instead placed a new implant in rats that is both flexible and stretchable. Manufactured from silicone rubber, the “e-dura” implant matches the elastic nature of dura mater (a flexible, protective membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord). Since the e-dura implant functions much like the body’s dura mater, the implant does not have the same problems as traditional implants.
The new e-dura implants are far more than just flexible and elastic devices. These implants also feature microchannels that allow for drug therapy and tiny electrodes that can be used for stimulation. The tiny electrodes are stretchable gold wires. The electrodes are designed with microscopically small cracks that facilitate the stretching, and are coated with a stretchable platinum-silicone mixture.
The experiment involved placing traditional and e-dura spinal implants into rats. Several weeks after the spinal implants were surgically installed in the rats, the rats with traditional implants began missing rungs and stumbling while trying to walk across a ladder. Meanwhile, the rats that had e-dura spinal implants performed as well as healthy rats without a spinal implant.
It turns out that the rats with traditional spinal implants had sustained spinal injuries from the implants. In these rats, the spinal cords had been flattened. Rats with the e-dura implants sustained no spinal cord damage from the implants.
Fortunately for the rats with newly damaged spinal cords, the researchers then surgically placed e-dura implants on their spinal cords. After the rats received electrical stimulation and drug therapy administered through the e-dura implants, the rats recovered and were once again able to walk.
As a result of this study, researchers now think that e-dura implants may be able to help people who have sustained damage to their spinal cords, brain, and even nerve damage to other areas of the body.