Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) have made a breakthrough that could someday help paralyzed people walk, run, or even dance again. After years of research, the team has developed e-Dura, a flexible material that allows an implant to be placed on the actual spinal cord without causing damage to the nerve tissue.
For years, researchers have been working on spinal cord implant technology that could end paralysis. Three years ago, EPFL achieved test results that indicated they were on the right track. They found a way to use a spinal cord implant that could bridge paralyzation, and allow the nervous system to repair pathways and regain mobility. The obstacle at that time was in the material being used. It was too rigid, and therefore caused irritation over time when placed under the extremely flexible casing around the spinal cord. In just a short amount of time, the implants would either become rejected by the body, or would rub on the nerve tissue and cause further damage.
According to Stephanie Lacour, co-author of the research paper, this new implant material might have solved one of the biggest challenges for the next generation of spinal implants. She explains more about how the implant works here:
The e-Dura prototype more closely mimics the spinal cord’s protective membrane, called dura mater. It’s stretchy, soft, and pliable. In testing, researchers learned that the flexible material kept inflammation to a minimum. The prototype did not damage the surrounding nerve tissue over a two month trial, nor was it rejected. These drastic changes make it possible to think about long-term implants for people who have suffered paralysis due to trauma or illness.
This leap forward could someday help people suffering paralysis to regain mobility, but there is still a long road ahead. Human testing has not yet begun, and more long-term trials are also necessary to determine how durable and effective the plant will continue to be after prolonged use.
Images via EPFL.