In what could lead to a major breakthrough in the treatment of paralysis, a radically innovative project in Europe aims to restore the transmission of signals in injured spinal cords.
The four-year ByAxon project is working on technology to give patients control of their limbs and researchers said it could ultimately be applied to other conditions, such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.
The European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Future and Emerging Technologies program has announced a $3.5 million funding grant for the four-nation project team that is building a prototype of an implant designed to 'rewire' the spinal cord. It would bridge the injury, reconnecting nerves on either side.
The world-first technology will allow neural signals to travel both ways in patients: sending instructions to limbs and returning sensory information to the brain.
Currently, neural interfacing technology does not deliver this feedback and typically involves cables or electrodes and equipment that is not portable.
The team will test the performance of its technology on neuron cultures, spinal slices and ultimately on rat brains, but at this early stage the research will not be tested on humans.
While its research focuses on spinal cord injuries, the project team claimed the technology could eventually be harnessed for the treatment of other conditions, including retinal implants, brain-recording systems for those with epilepsy, and deep-brain stimulation devices for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
“The ByAxon project makes no extravagant claims,” according to an article in Medical Life Sciences News.
“It is very early days for the technology it is proposing and much more research is needed to take the innovation forward once this four-year undertaking ends in December 2020. Nonetheless, the project is shaping into what might, eventually, turn out to be a major breakthrough in the treatment of paralysis.”
ByAxon is an interdisciplinary consortium from Spain, France, Italy and Germany comprised of five research institutions – IMDEA Nanocienciea, CNRS-GREYC; SISSA, SESCAM, ICMM-SCIS – and one company – mfd-Diagnostics.
Work began in Spain, from where the project is coordinated, in January 2017.
This article originally appeared on HIMSS Insights, a sister publication of Healthcare IT News Australia.