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Will 'bionic spine' breakthrough enable the paralyzed to walk?

Australian scientists say they may have found the "holy grail."

Medical researchers in Melbourne have created a tiny medical device that could allow paraplegics to walk. So far, the device has only been tested on sheep. Human trials are slated for 2017 and if the scientists' hypothesis proves correct, the invention would drastically improve the prognoses of paraplegics.

How does it work?

The device has been called the "bionic spine." About the size of a small paperclip, the device is implanted into the brain in a minimally invasive procedure. Surgeons would feed the device from the neck through a catheter to place it on top of the motor cortex, the area of the brain where nerve impulses initiate the voluntary movement of muscles.

Another small device would be implanted into the patient's shoulder. The bionic spine would send signals from the motor cortex to the shoulder implant. The shoulder implant then sends those commands to bionic limbs via Bluetooth.

At first, patients would need to be taught to consciously think about moving their bionic limbs in order to send the signals through the devices. Eventually, the thoughts would occur subconsciously. Thus, the bionic spine would not actually repair the damaged pathways in the brain and spine, but instead show the brain another way to accomplish movement.

The researchers believe that if the technology proves successful, it can be adjusted to help not only paraplegics, but also patients with epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and obsessive compulsive disorder.

At Weisfuse & Weisfuse, LLP, in New York City, we help victims of serious injuries, such as brain and spinal cord injuries, obtain the money they need to achieve the best possible quality of life in the aftermath of an accident. We look forward to learning more about whether the bionic spine could improve the lives of our clients.

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