Researchers at Brown University in the US have partnered with Rhode Island Hospital, Intel and Micro-Leads Medical to develop an ‘intelligent spinal interface’ to restore muscle control and sensation in patients with spinal cord injuries.

The device is intended to bridge the gap that a spinal injury creates in neural circuitry, helping patients regain limb movement and bladder control.

Designed to record signals that travel down the spinal cord above an injury site, the device will simultaneously capture signals coming up the spinal cord.

The information from signals travelling down will be leveraged for electrical spinal stimulation below the lesion, while that from signals coming up will be used for stimulation above the injury.

The spinal interface will help to restore volitional control of limbs muscles along with feeling and sensation lost because of injury.

Brown University School of Engineering assistant professor David Borton said: “We know that circuits around a spinal lesion often remain active and functional. The hope is that by using information from either side of a lesion in a bidirectional way, we could make a significant impact on the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

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“This exploratory study aims to build the toolset, the mix of hardware, software and functional understanding of the spinal cord, to make such a system possible.”

The team plans to enrol spinal cord injury patients over the coming two years for implanting an experimental interface for up to 29 days.

During the study period, the device will record and stimulate the spine as participants receive standard physical therapy for spinal injuries.

The focus will be on signals associated with control of the legs, for walking and standing, as well as bladder control. The two-year research aims to demonstrate the ability of the device to target the neural circuits influencing these activities.

Furthermore, the data from the project is expected to facilitate future therapeutic technologies.

Brown University researchers and Intel will work to create artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools for decoding the recorded spinal signals.

Meanwhile, Micro-Leads will provide a spinal cord stimulation technology called HD64 for the project.